Six UT student start-up businesses were awarded cash prizes in the spring 2021 Graves Business Plan Competition. The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business hosted the business plan and pitch contest, with final-round pitches taking place over Zoom on Friday, April 16. The awards were announced in a Zoom ceremony on Tuesday, April 20.
“One added benefit of holding the competition online is that the judges we invite can participate from any location,” said Tom Graves, operations director of the Anderson Center. Graves said the social consciousness of the proposed businesses stood out with this group of participants. “The intent to give back and improve peoples’ lives was clearly evident throughout.”
Fluffy Friends for Children with Chronic Conditions and Cogni received first place prizes of $5,000 each in the Lifestyle and Growth business categories, respectively. In the Lifestyle category, second place and $3,000 went to Brotallion, with SDU Auto Detailing placing third and receiving $2,000. In the Growth category, “to you, for you” received $3,000 for second place, and Quarters took third place and received $2,000.
Fluffy Friends for Children with Chronic Conditions is a 501(c)(3) founded by Allison Campbell, a senior majoring in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology. She wants each child with an incurable diagnosis to have a uniquely designed teddy bear that will have a secret pocket holding a symbol representing the child’s diagnosis. “One out of four children suffering from a chronic illness will develop some form of PTSD, and they often face the repercussions of ignorance and stigma associated with their condition,” Campbell said. “I formed this business to bridge the gap of support that exists once chronically ill patients return home from inpatient care at the hospital. I envision a world in which all patients feel safe and secure.”
Cogni is a learning platform where students review a set of instructor-created flashcards that are arranged according to each student’s strengths and weaknesses. Abhishek Ravi and Kishan Tailor, senior computer science majors, co-founded the platform. “We decided to create Cogni after we realized that education could be more personalized,” Ravi said. “After reaching out to countless educators, they all wanted to tailor their material for each student but did not have the time or means to do so. With Cogni, we hope to change that.”
Second place in the Lifestyle category went to Spencer Payne, a graduate student from Knoxville. He founded Brotallion while in an Army Aviation battalion, to provide custom and branded aviation apparel which cultivates the human emotion of flight, for aviators by aviators. “The business competitions at UT have helped us refine the ability to pitch our company,” Payne says. “The heart and soul of our organization is the culture of aviation and fostering it in the community. Brotallion is a community ambassador, and the most important role is the direct support of the Brotallion Blue Skies Foundation. The foundation is a veteran-founded 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to providing post-mishap support for the Army Aviation community and their families. In addition to providing financial support to the next-of-kin, we ensure that their legacies are never forgotten.”
Jordan Scott, a freshman from Jensen Beach, Fla., won second place in the Growth business category. She will receive $3,000 for her company, “to you, for you”. “After struggling with atopic dermatitis (eczema) resulting in extreme hyperpigmentation of the skin, I felt the need to identify a safe and effective treatment to smooth the appearance of the skin and help others who may struggle with similar skin conditions,” Scott said. “To you, for you” is a product meant for the lightest to the darkest skin tone, fit for men, women and children, from head to toe.”
Sean Utley’s third-place prize in the Lifestyle business category will allow him to buy much needed supplies for his business, SDU Auto Detailing. “For me, this is more than just detailing vehicles and making profits; it is also about affecting change within my community,” said the senior finance major. “Ten percent of all sales will go to nonprofits centered around teaching financial literacy and entrepreneurship to urban youth. In looking to the future, we also will be partnering with nonprofits and youth programs to help get high schoolers exposed to entrepreneurship and a successful business model; to equip them with the tools needed to be future successful business owners themselves.”
Quarters placed third in the Growth business category. Ricky Chen wanted to help find a solution to the affordability issues in the real estate market for buyers seeking smaller homes. He has designed housing using shipping containers which will be much cheaper to produce than stick built homes. Chen, a sophomore double major in finance and supply chain management, is from Nolensville, Tenn. “Our first Quarters product will hopefully become available by the end of this year,” said Chen. “Our ultimate goal is to create a community of Quarters homes in which individuals can achieve homeownership and become a part of a new wave of home designs.”
Open to UT students enrolled in undergraduate and master’s degree programs in any field of study, the Graves Business Plan Competition 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. Since the competition’s inception in 2008, it has awarded $312,000 to 95 student start-up businesses.
Tom Graves, the competition’s namesake, said that while some people see problems, entrepreneurs recognize opportunities. “True to the entrepreneurial spirit, our winners this semester seized on everyday problems and turned them into opportunities to create value,” he said.