University of Tennessee

Haslam Student Wins Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s “What’s the Big Idea?" Competition

May 15, 2018

Michael Newton, a first-year student, studies finance at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business, and in his spare time runs a company helping his classmates find apartments. Newton recently won the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s “What’s the Big Idea?” competition for his start-up, SWARM, which he launched before transferring to UT.

SWARM helps student housing companies market to students by identifying campus influencers on SnapChat and Instagram.

“I wanted to make a service that would make it easy to advertise to all the students,” Newton says. “Local places were just dropping fliers. I wanted to find a better way, one that didn’t infringe on the school’s rules or create litter.”

SWARM, previously called Volfluence, has launched at the university to great success.

“We have closed $15,000 in sales in the last three months and should be on track to do over $100,000 by the end of 2018,” Newton says. 

Newton plans to take the company to 12 new markets in the fall. He visited the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) to get advice as he expands his business, and met Jonathon Sexton, KEC’s entrepreneur-in-residence.

“My company had a lot of similarities with Jonathan’s, and he suggested I take part in the competition,” Newton says. “Software developers and marketing professionals worked with us on our idea and how to scale it.”

“What’s the Big Idea?” Is a 48-hour start-up summit in which new entrepreneurs work with local business mentors to perfect their pitch and craft a business plan. At the end of the weekend, KEC chooses a winning idea to take part in its more advanced programs and awards $10,000 in reimbursable expenses.

Newton says that SWARM will put the money toward building a sales team and a software platform. In addition to the expenses, Newton also receives free office space for six months and complimentary business services through KEC.