“When Coonhound won first prize, it really showed us that people believe in us and our idea.”
In 2017, a group of outdoor-loving UT sophomores noticed that there were plenty of camping equipment rental companies but none offering campsite delivery, let alone campsite set-up. Seeing this hole in the market, they officially formed their own business, Coonhound LLC.
The group met while in the venture living learning community in the Haslam College of Business. Together they established their business, Coonhound Camping, named after the breed of UT’s beloved mascot, Smokey. Today, the group includes supply chain management majors Dalton Maddox of Knoxville and Jeremy Piper of Clarkston, Michigan, along with accounting major Christopher Mikulec of Buffalo, New York, and geography major Michael Richards of Cross Plains, Tennessee.
In spring 2018, the group entered the Graves Business Plan Competition, hosted by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation in the Haslam College of Business. They placed first in the lifestyle business category, winning $5,000. They used the funds to cover insurance costs and purchase initial inventory of supplies, enabling them to officially open their business for camping season.
Donor support not only allowed the group to launch their business, but it validated and supported an idea created by 19- and 20-year-olds that may not otherwise have come to fruition. “When Coonhound won first prize, it really showed us that people believed in us and our idea,” Piper says.
Since then, the group has grown the company through two camping seasons, helping customers across Tennessee experience the outdoors. “There is no better feeling than being able to share our passion for the outdoors,” Maddox says.
This fall, Coonhound Camping was named a finalist in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Dream Big Awards in the Young Entrepreneur Achievement and Community Excellence categories.
“Our business would not be where it is today without the initial funding from the Graves Business Plan Competition and continued support from the Anderson Center, Haslam College of Business, and UT,” Richards says. “Starting a business while in college and seeking a nontraditional career path is a challenge, but we found essential support and services through the Anderson Center.”
Coonhound Camping’s services include a variety of packages ranging from small, traditional campsites to luxury group events. The company delivers gear in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other locations in Tennessee.
Because of the financial support following the Graves Business Plan Competition, the students are able to run a company, allowing them to enjoy an experiential learning opportunity as they pursue their degrees. “We love every second of what we do,” Maddox says. “We are really fortunate to have a business model that allows us to do what we already personally enjoy.”