University of Tennessee

Graves Business Plan Competition Awards Funding to Student Start-Ups

December 14, 2021

Seven University of Tennessee, Knoxville, student businesses received cash prizes in the fall 2021 Graves Business Plan Competition. The event, hosted each semester by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the university’s Haslam College of Business, awards three levels of prizes in two business categories, Growth and Lifestyle.

First place in the Growth category and $5,000 went to FarmCare, the brainchild of Jennifer “Farmer Jen” Durant, a first-year graduate student in a dual-degree program to earn an MBA and a master’s in agriculture and resource economics. Durant’s idea is to offer childcare in a farm setting.  

“Traveling around the country with the military, my kids and I got to see a lot of childcare businesses, and I realized that what I wanted as a mom just wasn’t available,” Durant said. “Even more importantly, I saw that the nationwide industry that makes our kids into the people they will become isn’t doing a great job. As a problem solver, I had no choice but to build the solution, and farm-based childcare was born.” 

Terebinth Jewelry took first place and $5,000 in the Lifestyle category. Founder Caleb Ross, a senior aerospace engineering major with a minor in entrepreneurship, is from Lebanon, Tenn. His jewelry line will offer different settings for one piece of jewelry, an idea that originated in an entrepreneurship class last spring. 

“This award money will directly go toward applying for a patent on the ring design and initial models, but rings are not our only focus at Terebinth Jewelry,” Ross said. “ We plan to release our first collection of pendants in early-to-mid-2022.”

Second place in the Growth category and $3,000 went to Ethan Andes for Advanced Propulsion Systems.  Andes, a sophomore nuclear engineering major from Knoxville, has developed a zero-emission thrust for use in jet engines. 

“We are dedicated to achieving zero-emission flight — that has been the mission from the start and hopefully something we can achieve on a large scale one day,” Andes said. “I plan to use the award money to develop the first physical prototype of the engine that APS designed. This will allow the technology to be shown in the real world and be a valuable advertising tool.”

The MultiBlock, an archery target that is designed to be long-lasting and have interchangeable face plates, won $3,000 for placing second in the Lifestyle category. Founder Lucas Huffman, a senior business management major with a collateral in entrepreneurship, grew up in Mount Juliet, Tenn., and is passionate about bowhunting and the outdoors.

“This business is not just an idea for a competition. I am very passionate about taking this venture to the next level,” Huffman said. “I plan to spend most weekends working on bringing that dream to life.”

Third place in the Growth category and $2,000 went to Caleb Brackney of Knoxville for Roamer Outpost. Brackney, a fourth-year graduate student working on a master’s in architecture and a master’s in landscape architecture, has converted a school bus into a tiny house residence. He is currently working on converting a small houseboat into another tiny house and plans to put the award money into that.

“I decided to form Roamer Outpost because I recognized a need in my community and an opportunity for me to help others who have similar desires to live bigger through having less,” Brackney said. “After a personal project of converting a school bus into a tiny house, I was overwhelmed by the support and energy the project sparked.”  

Molly Waugh’s Social Butterfly Social Media Management and Elliott Childress’ Venture Content tied for third place in the Lifestyle category and each received $1,000. 

Waugh, a senior from Germantown, Tenn., is majoring in marketing with an entrepreneurship collateral. With Social Butterfly, she plans to help small businesses with their social media presence across a variety of platforms.

Childress is a senior from Jonesborough, Tenn., majoring in cinema studies with a minor in entrepreneurship. He and a team of five others formed Venture Content to provide creative film clips that can be used over several different outlets to help companies with branding and message consistency. 

“This business is largely the result of my different experiences with professors and other students at the university,” Childress said. “The guidance from entrepreneurship paired with the team I met in cinema studies really made this come together.”

This was the 17th Graves Business Plan Competition. Open to UT students enrolled in undergraduate and master’s degree programs in any field of study, the contest offers student entrepreneurs the opportunity to win start-up funds for original business ideas. An outside panel of judges from the business community reviews the entries and determines the winners. The contest, which has awarded more than $330,000 to date, was named for Anderson Center operations director Tom Graves after a generous endowment from an anonymous donor.

This year the preliminaries were held online and the final pitches and award ceremony took place in person. 

“This limits contact while still allowing the students to have live feedback from the judges for their actual pitches,” Graves said. 

After 15 years of service at UT, Graves will retire at the end of December. 

“I have been in my second career here at the university for 15 years,” he said, “and I have enjoyed nothing more than hearing the ideas of student entrepreneurs and being able to help them along the path to starting their own companies.”

CONTACT:

Laura Rust, lrust1@utk.edu, 865-974-5126