“TN Venture Challenge” launches with 13 start-ups

UTRF Venture ChallengeBy Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

Top University of Tennessee (UT) executives joined local radio personality Hallerin Hill yesterday afternoon to kick-off the eight-week “Tennessee Venture Challenge.”

Close to 50 people crowded the atrium of the UT Research Foundation’s (UTRF) Business Incubator to hear Hill challenge the entrepreneurs to pursue their ideas and turn them into winning assets. Among those in attendance were UT President Joe DiPietro and UT Executive Vice President David Millhorn.

After a “speed dating” event where the aspiring entrepreneurs explained their ideas to those in attendance, the social aspects of the kick-off ended, and the first of seven classes began.

“In eight weeks, you have to tell a story that will convince three people to give you $25,000,” Tech 20/20’s Shawn Carson said as he started the training session. “It sounds simple, but it is not.”

Representatives of 13 companies, including several from Memphis and even one from the UT Space Institute in Tullahoma, are participating in the inaugural “Tennessee Venture Challenge.” UTRF is using video technology to connect those at the out-of-town locations.

Over the next six weeks, the entrepreneurs will participate in a two-hour session each Tuesday, except for March 11, where they will develop their business canvas and prepare the pitches they will make in the “finals” set for April 3.

“We’re going to help you think about your technology as a value proposition,” Carson explained.

The competition is open to any start-up company engaged in commercializing intellectual property created at UT. During a quick roundtable introduction, the entrepreneurs talked about a wide ranging set of technologies, everything from an app to help find available parking places on a college campus to a tool to help law enforcement agencies locate radiation sources and a genetic tool to screen many different samples in many different areas.

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