University of Tennessee

Two Startups with UT Roots Win Statewide Venture Challenge

June 9, 2016

Two companies started through a program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business were recently awarded $12,500 each through Launch Tennessee’s Statewide University Venture Challenge.

Grow Bioplastics and SilkOps were among four winners out of 38 Venture Challenge applications. Grow Bioplastics won in the commercial tech sector, while SilkOps won in the technology-enabled sector. Both were founded by UT students and received initial funding through the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation’s Boyd Venture Fund.

Grow Bioplastics founders Tony Bova and Jeff Beegle are energy science and engineering doctoral students. Their interdisciplinary program of study incorporates MBA-level courses in entrepreneurship and technology commercialization, according to Bova.

“Jeff and I met in undergrad and have a history of doing socially-responsible, environmentally-focused projects together,” Bova said. “This business seemed like the next logical step, and we really hope that our passion for the cause combined with the great mentorship and education in science and entrepreneurship we’re receiving here at the University of Tennessee will push us to the next level and national stage in the coming years.”

SilkOps, a software company serving custom print shops, was founded by Haslam business analytics graduate Taylor Adkins and Thomas West, a graduate of Virginia Tech, while both were still students.

According to Adkins the mentorship and connections provided the Anderson Center were central to the establishment of SilkOps, as were the opportunities to competitively pitch startup ideas for funding.

“The Anderson Center gave Thomas West and me the confidence and support to take our company to the next stage,” Adkins said. “The center gave us not only the opportunity for success through their competitions but the wherewithal to get back up after failure and push through the challenges of entrepreneurship.”

Adkins credited Tom Graves with providing excellent mentorship. The Undergraduate Business Plan Competition at Haslam was recently named after Graves, a senior lecturer, following an anonymous $1,000,000 endowment in his honor.

“Tom Graves truly took me under his wing,” Adkins said. “We developed a strong relationship, and he always challenged and encouraged me. For that I am very thankful.”

According to Lynn Youngs, executive director of the Anderson Center, the two statewide awards are a testament center’s success in fostering entrepreneurship throughout the University of Tennessee.

“We’re really proud of these students’ achievements and to be supporting them, and we’re especially happy to see the breadth and depth of the Anderson Center’s impact,” Youngs said. “These are two very different businesses founded by students studying different subjects at different levels. The center aims to have a broad, deep range and is open to all students.”