When Tom Graves was called to Dean Steve Mangum’s office the last week in April, he had no clue what was about to happen.
“It was a strange group of people in the meeting,” Graves said. He was joined by Lynn Youngs, executive director of the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation; Anne Smith, head of the management department; and Chip Bryant, Haslam’s executive director for development and alumni affairs.
Dean Mangum informed Graves that anonymous donors had given $1,000,000 to endow the Undergraduate Business Plan Competition (UBPC) at the Haslam College of Business. Graves has organized the competition for the last eight years, and this gift will enable it to continue in perpetuity.
“We were never 100 percent sure that we would have the money to put on the competition the next year, so this was fantastic news,” Graves said.
Mangum then informed him that the donors requested the competition be named in Graves’ honor to recognize his long-term dedication and passion for the program.
“Tom Graves has dedicated great personal energy over the past eight years to nurturing and honing the entrepreneurial visions of UT students,” Mangum said. “For Tom, this is a labor of love as well as a professional passion. To now have the UBPC bear his name is beyond appropriate. It is a lasting testament to a diligent, caring educator.”
Graves was floored. “I almost fell out of my chair,” he said. “I have to keep pinching myself.”
Though having the program named after him is surreal for Graves, he is most grateful for its secured future. “Because of these donors’ generosity, we will be able to offer this real-world opportunity to students indefinitely,” he said.
Providing opportunity and creating an entrepreneurial spirit for all students across the University of Tennessee has been Graves’ ultimate aim since the genesis of the UBPC in 2008. The competition, held every spring, has awarded $170,000 to fund 50 startup ideas. Thirty-six ideas have resulted in established companies.
During the competition, students present their ideas to business professionals who evaluate the startups on the strength of the pitch, project innovation and feasibility. Graves handpicks the judges from the business community, creating an authentic entrepreneurial pitch experience for students.
Graves and Mangum wished to express their heartfelt thanks to the anonymous donors for making this naming possible, as did Smith, Youngs and Bryant.