UT Students Awarded Business Funds During Fall 2023 Vol Court

The five-week speaker series culminated in a pitch competition that presented prizes to startups Flock Analytics, Napier Pickleball and PlasTech.

October 4, 2023

An analytics and tracking tool, a pickleball tournament series and facility and an innovative water bottle were the winners at the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation’s fall 2023 Vol Court.

Vol Court is a five-week entrepreneurial speaker series that culminates in a business idea pitch competition. The event is held every semester by the Anderson Center at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business. Participating students put what they learn in the speaker series into practice by pitching their business ideas to a panel of successful entrepreneurs for a chance to win $1,500.

“With such a wide range of backgrounds from our speaker series for this Vol Court, students gained unique and interesting perspectives on what entrepreneurship can look like,” said Robyn Geron, director of operations for the Anderson Center. “From dairy products to marketing services, and franchising to content creation, every entrepreneurial journey is unique.”

Flock Analytics and Other Fall 2023 Competition Winners

The team of judges awarded Flock Analytics the first-place prize of $1,500, Napier Pickleball the second-place prize of $1,000 and PlasTech the third-place prize of $500 for their startups. 

Senior computer science major and Knoxville native Cody Blankenship founded Flock Analytics, a cloud-based analytics and tracking tool tailored to provide in-depth insights for churches.

“Winning Vol Court has been an incredible honor, especially among such a pool of remarkable ideas,” Blankenship said. “I’m truly thankful for the mentorship that has helped me bring the vision of Flock Analytics to life.”

Second place was awarded to Napier Pickleball, founded by Mickey Napier, a senior marketing major from Columbia, Tenn. As pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the U.S., Napier Pickleball is accelerating the game in Tennessee by hosting monthly tournaments in both East and Middle Tennessee. Napier Pickleball plans to open a pickleball facility in Middle Tennessee as the business continues to flourish.

“It is an honor to win second at Vol Court because through persistent pitching I have gained experiences and explored a new world of opportunities that will last me a lifetime,” Napier said. “Through utilizing the resources at the Anderson Center, I have jump started my entrepreneurial journey as I pave the way for pickleball!” 

Kaili Ajamie and Valencia Loi teamed up to start PlasTech, the competition’s third-place winner. Ajamie is a sophomore accounting major and Loi is a junior business analytics major, and both students are from Knoxville. PlasTech aims to eliminate the adverse effects of toxic chemical leaching by providing another alternative to traditional water bottles. By using nanocellulose, a plant-based material, they generate a healthier product while maintaining the convenience of conventional bottles.

“It is an immense honor we got the chance to pitch our idea to other entrepreneurs,” Ajamie and Loi said. “We are grateful that the Anderson Center gave us the opportunity to bring PlasTech to life.”

Vol Court’s Speaker Series Featured Successful Entrepreneurs

Vol Court week one kicked off the speaker series with Colleen Cruze Bhatti (UT, ’11). Bhatti is the driving force behind Cruze Farm’s dairy products. She earned a B.S. in agricultural science from UT’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, and has used innovation and marketing expertise to transform the farm’s dairy products into a well-known Knoxville brand.

Hannah Lee (UT, ’13) was the featured speaker for week two. Lee co-founded and currently serves as the CEO of Second Mile, a revenue operations agency that’s sculpting the future of smarter business scaling. In 2023, she and Second Mile were recently awarded the Rocky Top Business Award for spearheading the fifth fastest-growing UT alumni-led businesses. A champion for work-life balance, Lee has been spotlighted in publications such as AdWeek for Second Mile’s innovative four-day workweek.

Week three’s session on franchising as a pathway of entrepreneurship was presented by Kari Summers Vogel (UT, ’17). A Knoxville native, Vogel took her entrepreneurial spirit into the cookie business. She owns and manages Whimsy Cookie Company, where she enjoys growing the brand in the local community.

The last Vol Court speaker, Josh Mancuso, spoke on his experience as a solo entrepreneur where he himself is the “product.” Josh Mancuso is an award-winning actor, comedian, filmmaker and social media star. A true Vols fan at heart, Mancuso is known for his quick-witted sports humor and viral college mascot videos, which have amassed millions of views across social media. He has also appeared in various television shows, short films and commercials.

About the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation 

The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation 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.

The Anderson Center thanks the Scott and Dianna Roe Foundation for their continued support of Vol Court and the student participants.


Brennan Hullett, bgalbrai@utk.edu