Innovative Online Publishing and Food Delivery Product Lead Boyd Venture Challenge Awardees

June 9, 2021

Four businesses owned by students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, were awarded a total of $30,000 in seed funds in the spring 2021 Boyd Venture Challenge. The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the university’s Haslam College of Business hosts the annual grant competition.

Start-up companies Arid Delivery Products, The Sleepy Owl Company, BusiCard and Fluffy Friends for Children with Chronic Conditions were chosen as winners in the competition held virtually at the end of the spring 2021 semester. The awards ceremony was held in person on June 3.

“Early-stage funding is challenging, even when the entrepreneur has identified a real market need,” Tom Graves, competition director, and operations director for the Anderson Center, said. “The Boyd Venture Challenge creates an opportunity for our aspiring student entrepreneurs to overcome this hurdle and achieve the next important milestones in their business success.”

Clay Franklin founded Arid Delivery Products because of a fundamental disconnect he observed in the food delivery industry. The junior finance major pursuing a concentration in business analytics hails from Franklin, Tenn.

“As a Grubhub delivery driver, I know that on-demand food delivery apps are technology companies, not customer service companies,” Franklin said. “Consequently, consumers are forced to sacrifice quality for convenience. I knew there was a solution, so I am creating a product that keeps food hot and moisture-free throughout transit.” 

The company was awarded $10,000 in start-up capital.

“Through funding, we will be able to create, iterate and finalize our prototype. We can then manufacture at scale and begin changing the food delivery space for the better,” Franklin said. “The release of the Arid Delivery Bag will be an upheaval of the current on-demand food delivery process. It will transform the perception of food delivery quality and enhance customer enjoyment.”

The Sleepy Owl Company also was awarded $10,000. The online publishing company was founded by Mekal Smith, a masters student in accountancy-taxation, from Chattanooga, Tenn.  

The Sleepy Owl Company was inspired by the untimely death of Smith’s best friend. “He loved writing short stories and manuscripts,” Smith said. “His stories were so detailed that I wished I could see a visual representation of what he wrote on his pages. The idea for the Sleepy Owl Company was created to allow authors access to a platform that would grant the author the ability to write a story or upload completed stories and attach digital media to the words of that story.”

Sleepy Owl gives the author or content creator the ability to attach digital media into the words of their story or instructions. That process is called D.R.E.A.M, an acronym which stands for Digital Recordings of Enjoyable Acquired Moments. “The award money will propel The Sleepy Owl company toward acquiring a patent for the D.R.E.A.M. concept and also will allow us to acquire Amazon Web Services to make the platform more innovative,” Smith said.

BusiCard, a user-friendly mobile application that eliminates the need for paper business cards and allows the user to store and sort business card information on their phone, was awarded $5,000. Jonathan Henry, a senior with a major in finance and concentration in international business from Williamsburg, Va., and Tiho Nikolic, a junior with a double major in finance and marketing with a concentration in international business from La Vergne, Tenn., co-founded the app.

“We saw the perfect opportunity to enhance business networking, and we want to leave our mark on the professional world,” Nikolic said. “The Boyd Venture Challenge competition has allowed us to further expand on our business’s plans and strategies. The award money will help us move forward with bettering our product and getting it to consumers. BusiCard takes away the pains of managing physical business cards by offering a full-service contact management solution.”

Fluffy Friends for Children with Chronic Conditions was awarded $5,000. Founded by Allison Campbell, a pediatric chronic illness patient, the company is working toward a world in which all patients living with a lifelong illness feel safe and secure. Campbell, a senior from Knoxville, is majoring in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology. 

“Up to 40 percent of chronically ill children develop some form of PTSD,” Campbell said. “I wanted to comfort children with a fluffy friend with a matching diagnosis so they would never feel they were fighting their battle alone.” 

Fluffy Friends for Children with Chronic Conditions is a (501)(c)(3) that gives teddy bears with a hidden pocket hiding a symbol of their matching diagnosis to children in the hospital. 

“This business strives to foster healthy psychological development in children who have experienced traumatic medical episodes and to serve this patient population that is often overlooked,” Campbell said. Fluffy Friends are intended to prevent medically-induced post-traumatic stress disorder, provide an age-appropriate method of introducing children to their diagnosis and circumvent the barriers caused by related stigmas that prevent such children from being comforted.

Graves continues to be impressed by the student-owned companies to whom the judges award funds. “Their products are innovative, and in a classic entrepreneurial approach, were envisioned and developed to solve a need the student personally experienced,” Graves said. “Their passion in addressing the need and bringing the business to life is rewarding to see.” 

The Boyd Venture Challenge is open to UT undergraduate and graduate students from any field of study that have a “papered” company. Since the fund’s inception in 2011, 44 student-owned companies have been awarded a total of $472,000 in seed capital to advance their businesses. The competition is made possible by a grant from The Boyd Foundation.


Laura Rust,, 865-974-5126