KNOXVILLE—Seven budding businesses got a financial boost this spring thanks to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s fifth annual Business Plan Competition.
They were chosen out of a group of twenty-four business plans that competed for $25,000 in donated prize money and services in a contest sponsored by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the College of Business Administration.
The students competed for first, second, and third place in two different categories—growth/technology-enabled businesses and lifestyle businesses.
First-place winners won $5,000, second-place winners received $3,000, and third-place winners won $2,000. The two first-place winners also received complimentary start-up accounting services from Brenda Boyd, a 1990 college alumna, as well as a one-year membership in Estrada Strategies business coaching network, donated by Kevin Kragenbrink, one of its founders.
“The Business Plan Competition was designed to develop and encourage an entrepreneurial culture on campus and to support aspiring young entrepreneurs in their quest to create value,” said Tom Graves, the Anderson Center’s operations director.
Zach Linn, a recent retail and consumer sciences graduate, won first place in the growth/technology-enabled category with Squish Bottles LLC. The product is a food-grade silicon rubber, collapsible water bottle. It incorporates thermal qualities, a replaceable filter, and the ability to collapse when pressed and to comfortably fit in a person’s pocket. Linn’s winnings will allow him to produce prototype bottles for beta-testing.
Second place went to the largest team to ever compete, Greek Connect. The five-person team—architecture major Collin Cope, management major Richmond Watkins, communications major Ryan McPherson, management major Grant Blevins, and marketing major Maggie Rubenstein—created software to enhance communications and interaction among the Greek communities on college campuses.
Third place went to management major Jake Rheude and accounting major Cedric Brown, the creators of SummerSett Foods. The company offers a line of frozen, pre-packaged buffalo chicken dips.
In the lifestyle category, Jennifer Smith, a recent Russian/global studies graduate and founder of Grassroots Uganda in North America, took first place. The organization uses the Web to connect Ugandan women who make jewelry and crafts to US customers. Customers buying the products can see the impact of their purchases on the lives of the Ugandan women. Smith’s prize money is allowing her to develop the website and import additional craft and jewelry items for the retail market.
Second place went to recent management graduate James Thayer, creator of the 54 Film Fest, a competition that provides local filmmakers a network and outlet for their creative talent.
The third-place prize was split between recent logistics graduate Rashad Sanders, who created Klass Kolab, and accounting graduate Corben Miller and finance graduate Brennen McMurry, who created Sneak-A-Peak. Klass Kolab focuses on improving the learning management systems used by universities. Sneak-a-Peak is creating an app to connect buyers and sellers of limited edition sneakers.
The judging panel included Gus Zacharias, CEO of Tennessee Marble; Bill Jenkins, a retired corporate executive/consultant; Jim Vaviledes, the general banking head of Capital Mark Bank and Trust; Jim Brogan, CEO of Brogan Financial; Bob Campbell, a local entrepreneur; Kevin Kragenbrink, founding partner of Estrada Strategies; and Aron Beierschmidt, founder and CEO of Foundation Mobile.
“With five of the seven winners already in business, we’re seeing an increasing number of undergraduate student competitors who have launched their first venture before graduating,” said Zacharias, a four-time judge.
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