Six Student Startups Win Funding in Graves Business Plan Competition

April 11, 2022

This spring marked the 18th Graves Business Plan Competition, where six student startup companies were awarded a total of $20,000 in funding. Hosted by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, the competition is designed to give undergraduate and graduate student entrepreneurs a real-world experience of a multi-round competition ending with an in-person pitch for investment. 

Participants compete in two different 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 Arid Delivery Products. Founded by Clay Franklin, a senior finance major and Franklin, Tenn., native, the B2B firm helps on-demand food delivery companies amplify customer satisfaction through meals that are hot and moisture-free. Arid has created a novel, multi-layered, insulated delivery bag that strikes the balance between heat retention and moisture-neutralization. After six prototypes and more than 300 in-field tests, Arid is securing a provisional patent. They are actively accepting pre-order interest from on-demand food delivery companies and restaurants interested in integrating Arid’s product into their operations.

“Capital from the Graves Business Plan Competition supports Arid’s go-to-market operations and enables us to initiate our first production run. The win is also incredibly motivating — confirming that the judges believe in our product’s viability and market potential,” Franklin said.

Inter-Gauge took home the Growth category’s second place prize of $3,000. The company, formed by computer-science majors Alexander Krneta from Hendersonville, Tenn.; Eli Carter from Lexington, Ky., and Jacob Howard from Hendersonville, Tenn., is a platform that facilitates anonymous communication of student engagement between a teacher and their students. It allows the teacher to get real-time feedback if students are following a lecture or need more information on a certain topic, and allows the student to give that feedback anonymously without feeling embarrassed if they don’t understand a topic. The founders decided to form Inter-Gauge because they realized an elegant resolution to a problem that students face across the country, and they are excited to bring it to fruition.  

The Growth category’s third place prize of $2,000 went to BC Exchange, founded by Kinley Koontz, a senior from Knoxville majoring in biomedical engineering and minoring in social entrepreneurship. Kinley founded BC Exchange, an online hemp wholesale to retail community and exchange, after discovering the need that hemp wholesale and retail business owners are experiencing. The business will create a convenient and secure distribution channel and payment processing for retailers and wholesalers who sell hemp products. They provide security, guaranteed quality and quick online payments all through one online exchange.  

Lifestyle Category Winners

First place of $5,000 in the Lifestyle category was awarded to KnoxVerified, a real estate platform for Knoxville-area rentals that provides renters verified rental options. Founder Ian Parten, a sophomore from Chattanooga double majoring in finance and accounting, had encountered many illegitimate rental listings on the internet and wanted to prevent this for others. KnoxVerified removes the uncertainty of renting because it verifies local Knoxville landlords. 

“After winning the Graves Business Plan Competition and VolCourt, KnoxVerified is affirmed that we satisfy a need in our community. I am thrilled to win Graves and this money will be able to advance my company to our revenue stage,” Parten said.

NeverFull Waffles took home the Lifestyle category’s second place prize of $3,000. NeverFull Waffles was founded by Bryce “NeverFull Trill” Vickers and NeverFull Goose, both Nashville natives. The company makes multi-flavored waffles for students on the UT campus. The founders decided to create NeverFull Waffles after making different flavored waffles for themselves and realizing that they could fulfill the need for late-night food options for students. 

Third place and $2,000 in the Lifestyle category was awarded to Fayette-Ware Mentoring Program. Evan Sudduth, a marketing major and entrepreneurship minor senior from Somerville, Tenn., founded the nonprofit, which serves Fayette-Ware High School by providing mentors, scholarships, service opportunities and more. Sudduth decided to form the program because he had experienced first-hand the need for support and investment in the Fayette-Ware community.

The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (ACEI), a part of the university’s Haslam College of Business, is proud to continue to support students campus-wide and the variety of startups represented.

“The Graves Business Plan Competition is more than just a pitch competition,” said Lynn Youngs, the center’s executive director. “It gives students the real-world experience to present their startup in front of five esteemed judges and allows them to receive funding, perhaps for the first time ever, giving their company some important momentum.” 

About the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation 

The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & 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 Galbraith,