Seven UT student start-up businesses were awarded cash prizes in the spring 2020 Graves Business Plan Competition. The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business hosted the entrepreneurial pitch contest, with final-round pitches taking place over Zoom due to COVID-19 social distancing measures.
Rolling Storage LLC and The Beachy Clean received first-place prizes of $5,000 each in the growth business and lifestyle business categories, respectively. In the growth business category, second place and $3,000 went to Got Beef, with Citiwrks LLC placing third and receiving $2,000. Among lifestyle businesses, Crafted in Columbia won second place and $3,000, and Fluffy Friends for Children with Chronic Conditions and WolfPack Financials tied for third place, receiving $1,000 each.
“Running the competition via Zoom proved to be an effective alternative to bringing the judges and students together in a room,” said Tom Graves, operations director for the Anderson Center. “Although not the preferred method, it's a viable option in a difficult time."
Rolling Storage LLC, which placed first in the growth business category, provides convenient and secure storage solutions for event-goers. Kaleb Winders, a junior from Hendersonville, Tennessee, majoring in business administration with an entrepreneurship minor and marketing collateral in the Haslam College of Business, is the company’s founder.
“I decided to form my business to help solve customers’ needs after personal experiences of not being allowed to bring items into venues and also from working security at large events,” said Winders.
The company currently serves the Knoxville Civic Auditorium and Coliseum, and Winders is looking to expand the business in the coming months.
“I will use the money to build another mobile storage trailer to continue serving customers at events in Knoxville and across the state,” he said.
The Beachy Clean offers non-toxic cleaning products in reusable containers. Genesee Semon of Nashville says she started the company with two goals in mind.
“First, to completely eliminate the need for single-use plastics,” said Semon, a Haslam senior majoring in finance with a concentration in entrepreneurship, “and second, to give consumers safe cleaners with ingredients they can trust.”
After becoming aware of how much plastic waste comes from single-use packaging, Semon decided to make a difference by focusing on the cleaning product industry. She enrolled in an environmental toxicology class and learned about the effects of chemicals commonly used in commercial cleaners.
“There is a huge deception in the cleaners industry,” Semon said. “Educating consumers about the toxic chemicals they are exposing themselves to is what drove me to start The Beachy Clean.”
With the award money, Semon plans to invest in marketing, bottle production and a device to measure cleaners’ effectiveness.
Got Beef, a social entertainment application designed to settle personal and public disputes by letting users choose a side and vote, came in second in the growth business category. Manan Desai, a senior studying computer science and statistics with a concentration in the Heath Integrated Business and Engineering Program, was inspired to form the company after a disagreement with his roommate.
“One time my roommate told me that Lil Wayne was a better artist than Kanye West,” Desai said, “and I knew right then that I had to come up with a better way to prove that he was wrong. I wanted to do it in a way that was creative and enjoyable.”
Desai plans to use the Graves award to start a targeted marketing campaign for the smartphone app.
Second place in the lifestyle business category was awarded to Crafted in Colombia, a company that imports and sells artisanal accessories from the South American country. Founder Beatríz Satizábal, a graduate student studying public relations, is originally from Cali, Colombia.
“Crafted in Colombia was created as a platform to share the stories of artisans from Colombia, as a way to share more about my culture,” Satizábal said. “All of the accessories are handcrafted by artisans using the highest quality materials while maintaining the craftsmanship of Colombian traditions.”
The $3,000 award will help Satizábal scale her business.
“I want to go beyond being an online store to become a distributor for upscale boutiques in the region,” she said. “The money from the competition will serve to cover the costs of new inventory, shipping and customs.”
Placing third among growth businesses, Citiwrks LLC focuses on identifying, tracking and resolving issues within city infrastructure. Ankush Patel, a computer science and mathematics major with a minor in cyber security, and Vijay Rajagopal, a computer science major with a minor in cyber security, founded the company. Both students are juniors from Memphis.
“[We] provide a tool whose goal is not to take away jobs but rather streamline some of the redundant day-to-day activities that a city employee might face,” Patel and Rajagopal explained in their pitch. “The team at Citiwrks LLC has a strong vision for a better tomorrow, where technology does not replace jobs but aids humanity in the best way it can.”
The founders plan to use their award money to purchase hardware and software and to hire freelancers.
Tied for third in the lifestyle business category, Fluffy Friends for Children with Chronic Conditions is a nonprofit organization started by Knoxville junior Allison Campbell, who is studying biochemistry and cellular molecular biology. Campbell’s inspiration for the start-up came from the Teddy Bear Wellness Clinic activity at Fantasy of Trees, East Tennessee Children's Hospital's annual holiday fundraising event.
With the goal of “touching the lives of patients who simply need a hug from someone who understands what they are going through,” Campbell said, “I formed [Fluffy Friends] to bridge the gap of support that exists once chronically ill patients return home from inpatient care at the hospital.”
The prize money will help to cover operation and production costs, enabling Campbell to expand the company’s outreach and impact on patients with chronic illnesses, she said.
Also tied for third among lifestyle businesses was WolfPack Financials, founded by Memphis senior Tamesha Bolden, who said the prize money will help the company execute its mission of breaking the generational cycle of financial illiteracy in underdeveloped communities.
“I started this business because I witnessed how the lack of financial literacy could impact a family's wellbeing,” said Bolden, a Haslam accounting major with a collateral in international business. “I had to dig deep into my passion and address this problem with a realistic and effective solution.”
"Some people see problems, others opportunities,” Graves said. “True to the entrepreneurial spirit, our winners this semester seized on everyday problems and turned them into opportunities to create value.”
Open to UT, Knoxville 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 $272,000 to 83 student start-up businesses.
Stacy Estep, business writer/publicist (firstname.lastname@example.org)