Four Student Companies Will Be Propelled by Receiving Funding at the Boyd Venture Challenge

Laborup, KnoxBots, Flock Analytics and Napier Athletics won a total of $30K in the annual business pitch competition

May 8, 2024

University of Tennessee, Knoxville, students Logan O’Neal, Braden Hechmer, Wesley Pitts, Cody Blankenship and Mickey Napier are the winners of the annual Boyd Venture Challenge, hosted by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI) in the Haslam College of Business.

The Boyd Venture Challenge offers student entrepreneurs the opportunity to launch successful businesses through mentorship, business development and seed funding. By presenting their companies in front of a panel of esteemed judges, students receive valuable feedback, experience pitching and the opportunity to win non-dilutive funding for their companies.

“I was so impressed by the quality of the businesses and the preparation of each of the presenting teams,” says Breanna Hale, executive director of the ACEI. “They communicated compelling companies and innovative concepts with clarity, confidence and creativity. Moreover, each of the students received valuable feedback from our judges and made connections that will be beneficial as they grow their businesses and beyond.”

Boyd Venture Challenge Winners: A Smart Staffing Platform, Robotic Mowing Company, Software Solution Company and Sporting Events Company

Laborup, a staffing platform for the industrial sector, was awarded $15,000. Logan O’Neal, a senior computer science and machine learning major from Jefferson City, Tennessee, and Braden Hechmer, a junior computer science and machine learning major from Dandridge, Tennessee, teamed up to form the company to better connect skilled trade professionals with more opportunities by managing and automating the entire recruitment process from application to offer.

“Winning the Boyd Venture Challenge is empowering and will propel us forward on our mission to revolutionize industrial hiring,” says O’Neal. “We are incredibly grateful to know that local business leaders support and believe in Laborup’s vision.”

KnoxBots, an innovative robotic lawn care company, was awarded $7,500. Welsey Pitts, a junior business management major from Knoxville, founded KnoxBots after seeing the need to revolutionize the lawn care industry through new technology.

“Being part of the entrepreneurial community at Haslam and the Anderson Center has been an amazing blessing,” says Pitts. “Winning this competition is truly going to be a stepping stone to an excellent second half of the year.”

Flock Analytics, a cloud-based, comprehensive software solution tailored for church analytics, was awarded $5,000. Cody Blankenship, a senior computer science major from Knoxville, founded Flock Analytics to foster his passion for helping churches in a meaningful way.

“Winning the Boyd Venture Competition is an exciting culmination of my journey at the University of Tennessee,” says Blankenship. “It signals not just recognition, but also an exciting opportunity to advance our vision for revolutionizing church analytics.”

Napier Athletics, a sporting events company with a primary focus on pickleball, was awarded $2,500. Mickey Napier, a senior marketing major and entrepreneurship minor from Columbia, Tennessee, formed her company out of her passion for pickleball. The company’s mission is to foster the growth of pickleball through organizing tournaments, coaching, clinics, staff outings, bachelor parties, social events and more throughout the South.

“Winning the Boyd Venture Challenge is an amazing accomplishment that I have personally dreamt of achieving, and I am beyond excited and blessed,” says Napier. “Not only does this milestone represent all of the support and hard work that has gone into building Napier Athletics, but it is an opportunity for the company to grow and scale to serve the pickleball community within the South!”

The Boyd Venture Challenge is made possible by the generosity of the Boyd Foundation. 

About the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation 

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.

Photo, L-R: Braden Hechmer, Wesley Pitts, Randy Boyd, Mickey Napier, Cody Blankenship, Logan O’Neal


Brennan Hullett,