The latest Graves Business Plan Competition, a unique twice-yearly event hosted by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI) housed in the Haslam College of Business, featured diverse business ideas and a spirited competition. University of Tennessee, Knoxville students gained real-world experience by pitching their businesses in front of a panel of five successful entrepreneurs, and seven student-founded businesses were awarded prizes in the competition’s Growth and Lifestyle categories.
Analytics Company Takes Growth Category First Prize
First place and $5,000 in the Growth category — which is for startups seeking high investment with large scalability — was awarded to Flock Analytics, founded by Cody Blankenship. The senior computer science major and Knoxville native also won first place in the Fall 2023 Vol Court pitch competition. Blankenship founded Flock Analytics, a cloud-based software solution tailored for church analytics, to foster his passion for helping churches in a meaningful way.
“Winning the Graves Business Plan Competition is a huge honor for both myself and Flock Analytics,” said Blankenship. “The awarded prize will significantly contribute to the success of our upcoming launch at the end of the year.”
Second place and $3,000 in the Growth category was awarded to Laborup. Logan O’Neal, a senior computer science major from Jefferson City, Tenn., founded the company after recognizing the discrepancies between the recruiting processes for white-collar and blue-collar positions. Laborup connects skilled talent with high-paying industrial sector jobs. Through his company, O’Neal aims to empower workers and contribute to the economic development of rural communities like those found in East Tennessee, creating job opportunities and fostering talent in order to create a more inclusive and equitable labor market.
“Growing up in a rural community, I witnessed firsthand the challenges faced by hardworking, blue-collar individuals seeking employment in physical industries,” said O’Neal. “Winning the Graves Business Plan Competition will not only propel our company forward but also amplify the impact we can make in bridging the gap between talent and job opportunities.”
The Growth category’s third-place prize of $2,000 was awarded to Accidental Ventures, a real estate development firm kickstarting financial freedom by providing built-in equity to aspiring homeowners. Knoxville native and junior finance major Jackson “JT” Sudderth founded the company.
“Being able to have a vision that others see as beneficial, capable and — quite frankly — good solidifies the hard work we have put into this firm,” said Sudderth.
An Affordable Farm Stay and Other Lifestyle Category Award Winners
First place and $5,000 in the Lifestyle category — which is for startups targeted to support local or smaller-scale opportunities — went to the Henry BnB. Founded by Kaitlyn Daniels, a graduate student in industrial engineering from Seymour, Tenn., the Henry BnB is an affordable rental farm stay that helps to solve the lack of experiential rentals within the greater Knoxville community while also raising awareness of East Tennessee farm culture.
“Winning the Graves Business Plan Competition means doors have opened for my business, as I would not be able to start my business without the generous support from investors,” said Daniels. “I am now able to pursue my dream of being a business owner, as well as preserve my family’s heritage and farm, which I am most passionate about.”
Second place and $3,000 in the lifestyle category was awarded to Napier Athletics, founded by Mickey Napier, a senior marketing major from Columbia, Tenn. Napier, who also won second place in the Fall 2023 Vol Court pitch competition, decided to form the company due to experiencing firsthand Tennessee’s lack of pickleball tournaments and opportunities to play the game. As pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America, Napier Athletics is accelerating the game by hosting frequent and local tournaments throughout Tennessee.
“Winning the Graves Business Plan Competition for Napier Athletics is so exciting that it feels like I won the Super Bowl,” Napier exclaimed. “This opportunity is a huge milestone for me personally and professionally, and I am honored.”
The Lifestyle category’s third place was a tie — the judges felt Athlete Meditation Coaching and Paint & Repair both deserved to be recognized and awarded. Each received $2,000.
Athlete Meditation Coaching was founded by Alexa Schnittka, a sports management graduate student from Muskego, Wis. The company is designed for athletes looking to improve their performance and mental health through mindfulness techniques. Schnittka decided to form her business because of her passion for both sports and mindfulness.
“Winning the Graves Business Plan Competition is a dream come true,” said Schnittka. “I am so appreciative of the support from the Anderson Center, their [Entrepreneurs-in-Residence] and the judges. Their support can truly help my business get off the ground, and I am so grateful.”
Brennan Lessard, a junior management major from Knoxville, founded Paint & Repair because of his interest in the craft and an opportunity in the market. Paint & Repair is dedicated to transforming spaces while ensuring high-quality work. The company prides itself on offering unique services and transformative painting solutions tailored to each client’s vision.
“This opportunity will speed up our growth process by allowing us to build a more stable foundation for expanding our operations and ultimately delivering a higher degree of painting services to a broader clientele,” said Lessard.
A Million Dollar Milestone
When the Graves Business Plan Competition awarded the seven latest winners, the ACEI awarded their one millionth dollar to UT student entrepreneurs. Since the ACEI was officially approved in 2009, they have awarded more than 245 UT student entrepreneurs funding totaling over $1 million. This exciting milestone was announced at the Graves Business Plan Awards Ceremony and will be celebrated across campus.
About the Graves Business Plan Competition and the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
The Graves Business Plan Competition is a twice-yearly event, with competitions hosted during the spring and fall semesters. Breanna Hale, ACEI executive director, believes the competition showcases UT’s high-caliber students and prepares them for future success. “The diversity of business plans presented at the Graves Business Plan Competition represents the breadth of interests and experiences our students have,” she said. “It’s always exciting to see what kinds of problems they feel inspired to solve, and to hear their novel plans for solving them. I think the biggest value in this competition, however, comes from the feedback our judges provide to each presenter. At the end of the day, our [student] entrepreneurs leave with real-world experience, connections, industry insights and a stronger business plan.”
The ACEI is a university-based resource for entrepreneurship across the region and the state of Tennessee. Its mission is to foster an entrepreneurial culture at UT and across the state by developing student skills, providing experiential learning opportunities, conducting meaningful entrepreneurial research and connecting students with mentors and resources that enable them to successfully start and grow new businesses.
Brennan Hullett, firstname.lastname@example.org