Zach Linn is a serial pitch competitor with a focus on collapsible, filtered water bottles

Recent University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) graduate Zach Linn is a serial pitch competition participant who is actively pursuing commercialization of a collapsible, filtered water bottle.

In a recent interview with teknovation.biz, the Nashville-native described a series of ideas that he presented each year during one of the pitch competitions sponsored by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI) in UTK’s College of Business Administration.

“I’m really an idea guy,” he says. For a Retail and Consumer Science major, Linn had to learn a great deal about a number of areas. “I taught myself business planning,” he says, crediting ACEI’s Tom Graves  and Mike West for helping a guy “who did not know what I was doing.” He has even designed the “secret sauce” technology that makes his latest endeavor unique.

Linn’s story is one of persistence and passion, but an increasing dose of reality.

During his first year (2007), Linn was a top five finalist in the “ACEI Business Plan Competition” with an idea for QuickCar, a consignment sales company where Linn sold cars for people through eBay Motors. He placed third the next year with “LiPack,” a battery in a backpack for recharging electronic devices. Linn’s 2009 idea – integrating a cellphone into a traditional landline phone system – did not make the competition.

For 2010, he proposed “Monolog,” a smartphone-based video social networking tool that made it easier for individuals to send and receive one-minute video monologues. The parties could send video “calls” at their convenience and view them at their convenience, not necessarily at the same time.

“I was told it was too big an idea,” Linn said, noting how aligned his idea was with UTK’s current tagline – “Big Orange. Big Ideas.”

Like any good entrepreneur, he was not deterred. In fact, he took just two days to develop the concept for the silicon-based, collapsible water bottle. This time, lightning struck in several ways – he won the Spring 2011 “Vol Court” competition and secured a great deal of press coverage, but he also learned two good lessons – you need a website and a prototype. Linn had neither.

“I missed the wave on this (publicity),” he said.

Linn did realize that “I had
something,” and he’s been pursuing his “Squish Bottle” for the last 18 months, using the cash that he won in the “Vol Court” competition. He sees college coeds as “avid consumers” for the bottle, so he has been asking them about designs and shapes.

“Silicon is incredibly resilient, flexible, and it insulates,” he says, adding that “it will never leach harmful chemicals like BPA.”

Linn showed us his secret sauce, in this case a unique cap which he is working to patent. He asked that we not further describe it.

Like many entrepreneurs, Linn is currently has a beta version of his bottle and is actively seeking funding.

“If I can’t attract investment in three months, I’m going to give-up for now,” he says. There is the matter of bringing in money to pay bills.

That said, Linn has a well-defined strategy to be successful over the next three months. “I think this is a perfect product for Kickstarter,” he says, so Linn is going to try to raise $30,000 in a 30-day period before the end of 2012. “Kickstarter is a make it or break it market validation.”

Linn also plans to approach some potential Knoxville investors.

One can see that pursuit of the “Squish Bottle” is not just a business opportunity, but also a personal passion for Linn. He plans to donate 10 percent of the revenue derived from product sales to water relief efforts to help more than one billion people in areas that do not have potable water.

With a different idea each year for the UTK competitions, one senses that Linn will hit big with either the “Squish Bottle” or another invention.

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