By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
One could not help but think of the word “diversity” when describing Sunday night’s finale for the 2017 edition of “What’s the Big Idea?”
Whether it was the ideas presented or those who pitched them, there was a rich mix that bodes well for Knoxville’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Three of the founders were women, including a University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT) senior, and two more were veterans. Their ideas covered the continuum – from using common house crickets as a sustainable source of protein to providing a global travel risk mitigation tool that monitors business executives and others during their international travels.
Six companies pitched to a welcoming audience that packed Scruffy City Hall in Downtown Knoxville. It was the latest edition of the annual event first launched in 2009 by the Development Corporation of Knox County.
“Listen to their ideas and think how you can help one of them move forward,” exhorted Jonathan Sexton of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) during both his opening and closing comments as master of ceremonies. KEC’s always enthusiastic Entrepreneur-in-Residence also praised the nearly 50 mentors who worked with the six teams during the 48-hour marathon that started Friday night.
As noted in yesterday’s article on teknovation.biz, BreatheEasy, a company founded by Laura Odom, took the top prize. Judges were TC Carter of the Knoxville Urban League, Shawn Carson of Three Roots Capital, and Patricia Robledo of the City of Knoxville.
“We are refining the way the world treats asthma,” Odom explained. “The current plan of asthma care is incomplete.”
Integrating something called the CAST score with an app on a mobile device, BreatheEasy provides a dashboard for users in addition to a means for patients to better communicate with their healthcare providers.
“We have launched a HIPAA-compliant app and have a pilot underway with Knoxville Pediatric Associates,” Odom said, referring to the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that covers privacy and security of individual health information. She has been a Nurse Practitioner for 13 years.
One of the downsides of pitch competitions is the reality that only one team wins the grand prize, yet there are many good ideas advanced. Here’s a summary of key points made by the other presenters in alphabetical order by company name.
Command Glove: Brandon Hardin, a commercial airline pilot and member of the Air National Guard, has invented the “Command Glove” to facilitate communications for runners and others during workouts. Citing his own experience of listening to music while running and being shocked when a song from Adele followed one from Kanye West, Hardin decided there had to be an easier way to change the selection than stopping and fiddling with his iPhone. “You can command music, another app or even answer your phone through a simple tap,” he said of the Command Glove that is worn by the runner. “When Adele interrupts my run, I can now give her a goodbye.” As you might imagine, that drew a good laugh from the crowd.
Origami Day: Samantha Day explained that her idea, first conceived during a “life-impacting experience” two years ago, is focused on helping “grow a culture of people who care about work-life balance.” Using a toolkit that includes a daily planning chart called the “Origami Sheet,” individuals are able to better prioritize their work actions for each day and tangibly see what they have accomplished. “Work is a necessity, life is a priority,” Day observed.
Prometheus: Drawing its name from the Greek deity, the company was founded by Ruel Christopher, a 15-year U.S. Special Forces veteran who knows firsthand the dangers of international travel. That’s the motivation behind his risk mitigation tool. Christopher explained the company secures information on where an individual is planning to travel, provides intelligence on potential issues ahead of the travel, and then provides real-time monitoring during those trips. “You get a report, travel, and we’ve got your back,” he said in describing the company that is already generating revenue. Its tagline says a great deal about the focus – “Your world, safer.”
TrapBeats: Krystal Tran is the UT senior who started her pitch with a simple question: “How much does the value of peace and quiet mean to you?” Observing that residential units for college students are usually noisy, she has conceived something that is a hybrid between traditional sound panels and interchangeable graphic wraps. The combination provides the sound reduction needed as well as the ability of individuals to quickly change the design covering the panel to reflect their current interests.
Urban Valley Farms: Have you ever thought of the traditional household cricket being a sustainable source of daily protein? We certainly had not until Carson Bone described the challenge – it takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef protein compared to a single gallon for the same amount of protein from a cricket. Urban Valley Farms’ plan is to raise and harvest crickets, grinding them into powder. “We have a customer committed to purchase all we can produce,” Bone said. “We would be the nation’s first source of all organic crickets.”