This spring marked the 18th Graves Business Plan Competition, in which six University of Tennessee, Knoxville, student start-up companies were awarded a total of $20,000 in funding. Hosted by UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the competition is designed to give undergraduate and graduate student entrepreneurs a real-world experience of a multiple-round competition ending with an in-person pitch for investment.
“The Graves Business Plan Competition is more than just a pitch competition,” said Lynn Youngs, the center’s executive director. “It gives students the real-world experience to present their start-up in front of five esteemed judges and allows them to receive funding, perhaps for the first time ever, giving their company some important momentum.”
Participants compete in two different categories, growth and lifestyle, each with three levels of prizes. The growth category is for start-ups seeking high investment with large scalability. The lifestyle category is for start-ups targeted to support local or smaller scale opportunities.
Growth Category Winners
First place and $5,000 in the growth category was awarded to Arid Delivery Products. Founded by Clay Franklin, a senior finance major from Franklin, Tennessee, the business-to-business firm helps on-demand food delivery companies amplify customer satisfaction through meals that are hot and moisture-free. Arid has created a novel multi-layered insulated delivery bag that strikes the balance between heat retention and moisture neutralization. After six prototypes and more than 300 field tests, Arid is securing a provisional patent. They are accepting preorder interest from on-demand food delivery companies and restaurants interested in integrating Arid’s product into their operations.
“Capital from the Graves Business Plan Competition supports Arid’s go-to-market operations and enables us to initiate our first production run. The win is also incredibly motivating — confirming that the judges believe in our product’s viability and market potential,” Franklin said.
Inter-Gauge took home the growth category’s second place prize of $3,000. The company was formed by three computer science majors: Alexander Krneta, from Hendersonville, Tennessee; Eli Carter, from Lexington, Kentucky, and Jacob Howard, from Hendersonville, Tennessee. It provides a platform that facilitates anonymous communication of student engagement between teachers and students. It allows teachers to get real-time feedback if students are following a lecture or need more information on a certain topic, and allows students to give that feedback anonymously without feeling embarrassed if they don’t understand a topic. The founders decided to form Inter-Gauge as a practical resolution to a problem that students face across the country, and they are excited to bring it to fruition.
The growth category’s third place prize of $2,000 went to BC Exchange, founded by Kinley Koontz, a senior from Knoxville majoring in biomedical engineering and minoring in social entrepreneurship. BC Exchange, an online hemp wholesale-to-retail community and exchange, will create a convenient and secure distribution channel and payment processing for retailers and wholesalers of hemp products. They provide security, guaranteed quality, and quick online payments through one online exchange.
Lifestyle Category Winners
First place of $5,000 in the lifestyle category was awarded to KnoxVerified, a real estate platform for Knoxville-area rentals that provides renters with verified rental options. Founder Ian Parten, a sophomore from Chattanooga double majoring in finance and accounting, encountered many fake rental listings on the internet and wanted to prevent potential renters from becoming victims of online scams. KnoxVerified removes the uncertainty of renting because it verifies local Knoxville landlords.
“After winning the Graves Business Plan Competition and VolCourt, KnoxVerified is affirmed that we satisfy a need in our community. I am thrilled to win Graves, and this money will be able to advance my company to our revenue stage,” Parten said.
NeverFull Waffles took home the lifestyle category’s second place prize of $3,000. NeverFull Waffles was founded by Bryce “NeverFull Trill” Vickers and NeverFull Goose, both Nashville natives. The company makes multiflavored waffles for students on the campus. The founders decided to create NeverFull Waffles after making different flavored waffles for themselves and realizing that they could fulfill a need for late-night food options for students.
Third place and $2,000 in the lifestyle category was awarded to Fayette–Ware Mentoring Program. Evan Sudduth, a senior marketing major and entrepreneurship minor from Somerville, Tennessee, founded the nonprofit, which serves Fayette-Ware High School by providing mentors, scholarships, service opportunities, and other benefits. Sudduth decided to form the program because he had experienced firsthand the need for support and investment in the Fayette–Ware community.
Lindsey Owen (865-974-6375, [email protected])