Six UT student start-up businesses were awarded cash prizes in the Graves Business Plan Competition. The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business hosted the 11th annual entrepreneurial contest.
Coonhound, LLC and Generative Genetics took home top prizes of $5,000 each in the lifestyle business and high-growth business categories. Flo+Co. and Cumberland Games Company won second place and $3,000 each, and Stoked Info and Patriot Threads each won third place and $2,000.
“The variety and quality of this year’s business ideas was outstanding,” said Tom Graves, operations director for the Anderson Center. “These students showed incredible passion for their businesses and impressed the judges with the work they did to move their ideas forward.”
Coonhound, LLC, which placed first in the lifestyle category, is a full-service camping business, seeking to simplify the logistics of camping so campers can spend more time exploring the outdoors. The company provides equipment along with campsite setup and removal.
A team of six sophomore students founded the company—Dalton Maddox, from Knoxville, Tennessee, majoring in supply chain management; Jeremy Piper, a supply chain management major from Clarkston, Michigan; Michael Richards, a geography major from Cross Plains, Tennessee; Connor Clarke, a supply chain management major from Morristown, Tennessee; Kenny Miller, from Cleveland, Ohio, majoring in both recreation and sport management and business analytics; and Christopher Mikulec, an accounting major from Buffalo, New York.
“We decided to form Coonhound out of our love for the outdoors,” said Piper, Coonhound’s oversight and quality control manager. “We really wanted to get more people out into nature, and Coonhound is a great way to accomplish this goal.”
Coonhound plans to launch this month, offering a range of camping packages in the Smoky Mountains.
“The Graves Business Plan Competition helped show us that people really believe in our business as much as we do,” said Piper. “Through winning this award money, we will be fully operational and cover costs throughout our business.”
Generative Genetics, founded by junior Ariel Ritter, won first place in the high-growth business category. Ritter, from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is majoring in both chemical engineering and biological sciences.
“I have a passion for both exploration and animals,” said Ritter. “Generative Genetics allows me to continue my research while enabling other researchers to do the same with an increased purpose.”
Generative Genetics seeks to offer solutions for researchers of difficult-to-treat diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer's disease. The company breeds axolotls, a species of tiger salamander known for its regenerative ability. Ritter plans to use her winnings to fund a larger business space and cover licensing as her company expands.
Second place in the lifestyle category went to Flo+Co., a floral coffee shop concept created by Meg Hutchinson, a junior supply chain management major from Franklin, Tennessee.
“When I attended floral school in Bath, England, I noticed the strategic pairing of coffee shops next to flower shops,” said Hutchinson. “Being an avid coffee and flower lover, I believed that this was a concept that would catch fire in my hometown.”
Hutchinson plans to use the prize money to grow the business by building on her current brand, Meg Hutchinson Florals. The company will offer floral pop-ups around Knoxville in addition to the floral design services Hutchinson currently offers.
Cumberland Games Company, took home second place in the high-growth category. The company was founded by Grant Peterson, a junior supply chain management major from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Peterson plans to use his passion for the board game community to create unique games characterized by innovative design and unique visuals.
“The tabletop gaming community is growing rapidly as people seek to spend quality time with their friends,” said Peterson. “Cumberland Games Company aims to provide games that will give lasting memories to this growing generation of game enthusiasts.”
The company is developing the prototype for its flagship game, One Time Gig, with plans to begin a Kickstarter campaign in early 2019.
Stoked Info, a media start-up company, won third place in the lifestyle category. Team members Nicholas Stokes and Trevor Bass, both junior journalism and electronic media majors from Memphis, Tennessee, founded the company. The company encourages consumers to “stay stoked” by consuming news from various viewpoints.
“Stoked Info, The People's Press, was created to put the news consumer first,” said Stokes. “We aim to become the go-to news curator of everything politics, sports, entertainment, and style.”
The company plans to use the awarded funds to purchase equipment needed to produce Stoked Radio, the group’s weekly news podcast.
Third place in the high-growth category was awarded to Patriot Threads. The “apparel brand with a mission” was founded by Brady Fernandes, a freshman marketing major from Knoxville, Tennessee. The company supports Veteran-based nonprofit organizations through donations from its profits.
With the funds awarded, Fernandes plans to grow the company’s inventory.
“The competition was an amazing opportunity for me to really evaluate my own business and plan to move it forward,” said Fernandes. “The judges provided some much-needed feedback so that I can continue to grow my dream into a reality.”
New to this year’s competition were student financial advisor roles. These students worked with competition finalists, consulting on the start-ups’ financial planning. Logan Sizemore, a junior accounting major from Johnson City, Tennessee, won top prize in the student financial advisor competition, working with Generative Genetics.
“As a young entrepreneur myself, I was delighted to be able to provide my insight and use my major and knowledge in accounting to help Ariel achieve her goals and prepare her financials,” said Sizemore. “The participants obviously earn all the credit, but even being just a small part of their success is a rewarding experience."
Austin Robinson, a senior finance major from Andersonville, Tennessee, won second prize, and Olivia Davis, a junior accounting major from Franklin, Tennessee, won third prize.
The Graves Business Plan Competition is held every spring and is open to UT undergraduate students from any field of study. An outside panel of judges from the business community judges entries and selects the winners. Since the competition’s inception in 2008, it has awarded $212,000 to 67 student start-up businesses.
Carrie McCamey (865-974-5126, firstname.lastname@example.org)