Customized Golf Putter and Gourmet Bakery Earn Top Awards at Graves Business Plan Competition

April 5, 2024

The Graves Business Plan Competition is a unique, two-category pitch competition that provides real-world experience for students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Hosted by the Haslam College of Business Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the spring 2024 edition of the highly competitive event featured an array of student-led businesses and a panel of expert judges consisting of five successful entrepreneurs. 

“The judges had a very difficult task to determine the prize allocation,” says Breanna Hale, executive director of the Anderson Center. “The teams were so well prepared, and the ideas were so diverse, it ended up being incredibly difficult to narrow down the winners in each track. Each presenter should feel very proud of their hard work, they represented themselves and UT beautifully.”

Growth Category Startup Winners

The Graves Business Plan Competition’s growth category features three prize levels and is for startups seeking large investment with high scalability.

First place and $5,000 in the growth category was awarded to T Squared Putters, founded by Tony and Mike Tuber, brothers from Buffalo, New York. Mike is a junior finance major, and Tony is a senior marketing major who also won first place in the spring 2024 Vol Court pitch competition. T Squared Putters crafts premium putters with unparalleled precision and customization options, empowering golfers to elevate their game with confidence. The siblings founded T Squared Putters out of their passion for  golf and their identification of a big opportunity to form a niche putter brand in an industry that is crowded with large corporations.

“Winning the Graves Business Plan Competition is fantastic,” says Tony. “Mike and I both feel very good about what we have been working on for the last few years, and winning Graves is evident of that. We are also very thankful to the Anderson Center for giving us the opportunity to showcase T Squared Putters.”

Second place in the growth category and $3,000 went to Spartronic, a laser tag system that allows users to create new game modes and customize their experience. Ethan McFarland, a sophomore electrical engineering major from Knoxville, founded the company after seeing an opportunity to combine STEM education and laser tag.

“Winning this competition is an honor and a huge step for Spartronic,” says McFarland. “We are excited to keep this momentum going by using the winnings to finalize our prototype and manufacturing before our launch.”

The growth category’s third-place prize of $2,000 was awarded to Aeroshine, a business founded by Camden Shuman, a junior mechanical engineering major from Asheville, North Carolina. Shuman and his company (formerly Sky Clean) also placed third in the spring 2024 Vol Court pitch competition. Aeroshine harnesses drone technologies to make cleaning Knoxville mid-rise buildings and solar farms better, faster, cheaper and safer than ever before.

“It is amazing that when you venture outside your comfort zone, incredible things can happen,” says Shuman. “I am honored to be a winner at Graves and look forward to the future of Aeroshine.”

Lifestyle Category Startup Winners

The lifestyle category of the competition features three prize levels and is for startups targeted to support local or smaller-scale opportunities.

First place and $5,000 in the category went to the Pink Apron, a bakery founded by three Knoxville natives with a deep appreciation for European pastry craftsmanship. Connor Langford, a junior marketing major, Maxwell Coggin, a junior chemical engineering major, and Zachary Barron, a junior business management major, teamed up to form the Knoxville-based bake shop that specializes in authentic European pastries. With fresh daily deliveries to local coffee shops, Pink Apron focuses on traditional craftsmanship to elevate Knoxville’s coffee scene one delicious bite at a time.

“Winning the Graves Business Plan Competition is a huge honor that validates our mission to bring authentic European pastries to Knoxville’s coffee shops,” says Langford. “This win allows us to propel Pink Apron forward and share our passion for exceptional pastries with our community and favorite coffee shops.”

Second place and $3,000 in the lifestyle category was awarded to Dogwood Picnics, which was founded by Emma Lakatosh, a junior business analytics major from Knoxville. As a picnic enthusiast, Lakatosh wanted to bring a convenient and affordable option to her hometown. Dogwood Picnics delivers all the components for a quality picnic at a fraction of competitors’ prices, allowing customers to enjoy creating unique memories with the ones they love.

“Winning the Graves Business Plan Competition is a milestone for Dogwood Picnics, allowing us to expand our staffing capacity and establish efficient logistic systems,” says Lakatosh.

The lifestyle category’s third place and $2,000 prize was awarded to Rocket City Refill, a zero-waste refill store dedicated to providing clean products. Josie Rich, a senior computer science major from Nashville, founded Rocket City Refill out of a desire to help people be more conscious and intentional about the things they buy, emphasizing that small changes can make a big impact over time.

“The Anderson Center’s motto is ‘come for a degree and leave with a business,’ and I will be doing just that,” says Rich. “I have met so many amazing people through this competition and have been able to educate people about the environmental and personal health benefits of shopping at a zero-waste [refill shop].”

Recognizing Innovation

For the first time ever, the Graves Business Plan Competition awards ceremony included an additional prize. The Spark Innovation Award, sponsored by the Spark Innovation Center, was awarded to Lite Power Analytics in recognition of the business’ novel approach to addressing important energy problems. Founded by Kyle Weiss, an energy science and engineering graduate student from Seattle, Lite Power Analytics provides accessible and affordable energy dispatch systems and pricing models.

About the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation 

The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation 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.

Photo, L-R: Ethan McFarland, Camden Shuman, Connor Langford, Maxwell Coggin, Josie Rich, Zachary Barron, Emma Lakatosh, Tony Tuber, Mike Tuber


Brennan Hullett,