Six Student Companies Win Startup Capital in Graves Business Plan Competition

November 18, 2022

A total of $20,000 in funding was awarded to six student companies in the fall 2022 Graves Business Plan Competition. Hosted by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the competition is designed to give University of Tennessee, Knoxville undergraduate and graduate student entrepreneurs a hands-on experience in a multi-round competition ending with a 10-minute in-person pitch for investment. 

“The Anderson Center is proud to host the Graves Business Plan Competition, which gives students the real-world experience of pitching their startup,” said Lynn Youngs, executive director of the Anderson Center. “We were very impressed by this semester’s wide range of students represented by different academic colleges and the variety of startups they’re pursuing.”

The competition has two categories, Growth and Lifestyle, each with three levels of prizes. The Growth category is for startups seeking high investment with large scalability. The Lifestyle category is for startups targeted to support local or smaller-scale opportunities.

Growth Category Winners

First place and $5,000 in the Growth category was awarded to Out of the Box Appliances, founded by Alexandria Carter, a senior biomedical engineering major from Knoxville. She created this revolutionary line of kitchen appliances after realizing the need to innovate the kitchen industry. 

“Winning this competition means my dream of combining passion and career in one space has come true,” said Carter. “Incorporating baking into engineering is something I never thought to be the reality I’d live in, but I am beyond excited to say that winning the Graves Business Plan Competition has made that possible.”

ZNA KICKS, founded by Knoxville native Zain Zitawi, took home second place and $3,000 in the Growth category. Zitawi, a sophomore business exploratory major, has turned his passion for sneakers into an already successful business that has served hundreds of happy customers. “ZNA KICKS is built on the connection between sneakers and people,” he said. “Every sneaker has a story, and it’s our mission to connect with others through this culture.”

“Winning this competition is extremely rewarding,” Zitawi added. “This will be our first source of funding, and it will greatly expedite our process toward reaching our sales goals next year.”

Third place and a $2,000 prize in the Growth category was awarded to Fresh Now, founded by Taylor Gingrich, a senior industrial engineering major from Dayton, Ohio. Fresh Now, which also won first place at Vol Court this fall, is an app that allows users to easily scan in their grocery items to get daily reminders about expiration dates. It also provides meal suggestions based on which foods are closest to expiration.

“Knowing that experienced entrepreneurs believe in the feasibility of this idea gives me more confidence to pursue making the vision a reality,” said Gingrich.

Lifestyle Category Winners

First place and $5,000 in the Lifestyle category was awarded to Taste Music by Colin Hudgins, a senior supply chain management major from Greenville, S.C. Taste Music is a personalized music recommendation service for listeners who have trouble discovering new music through conventional methods.

“Winning the Graves Business Plan Competition has given Taste Music the support and momentum it needs to push forward,” said Hudgins. “This experience has been incredibly motivating, and I am thrilled to have won the competition for my company.”

Dualie, founded by Ian Parten, was awarded second place and $3,000 in the Lifestyle category. Parten, a junior accounting major from Chattanooga, Tenn., created the company to provide software integrations that optimize processes within scholastic, professional and collegiate organizations.

“To win the Graves Business Plan Competition means an ease of advancement to my company,” said Parten. “Especially as a student, it’s extremely difficult to bootstrap your own startup. Competitions like these make it possible for students like me to achieve their goals.”

Third place and a $2,000 prize in the Lifestyle category went to Chi Rho Media Group, founded by Matthew Conner, a sophomore finance major from Knoxville. As an avid podcast fan, Conner wanted to change lives through podcasts, so he started Chi Rho Media Group, a Christian podcast production company.

“Winning the Graves competition will allow us to produce a couple of shows that we can showcase to potential investors and demonstrate our ability to create content,” said Conner.

The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, housed within the university’s Haslam College of Business, is devoted to providing students the opportunity to learn experientially through competitions and gain important feedback from our esteemed judges.

About the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation 

The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI) is a university-based resource for entrepreneurship across the region and the state of Tennessee. Its mission is to foster an entrepreneurial culture at UT and across the state by developing student skills, providing experiential learning opportunities, conducting meaningful entrepreneurial research and connecting students with mentors and resources that enable them to successfully start and grow new businesses.


Brennan Hullett,