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June 29, 2021 | Tom Ballard

Allison Campbell says she just dove in “and might have bumped my head in the deep end”

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Allison Campbell laughingly told us recently, “I just dove in, and I might have bumped my head in the deep end.”

The recently graduated University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) student was referring to her not-for-profit start-up named Fluffy Friends for Children with Chronic Conditions. The mission of the 501(c)(3) is to ensure young patients with a chronic illness never feel that they are fighting their battle alone.

Now, thanks to taking first place in the “Lifestyle” category of the most recent “Graves Business Plan Competition” (see our article here) and winning another $5,000 in the “Boyd Venture Challenge,” the Knoxville native and Bearden High School graduate is $10,000 closer to her initial goal of securing more than 1,500 specially outfitted teddy bears.

Allison Campbell

Campbell majored in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology as an undergraduate with a long-term goal of becoming a pediatric neurosurgeon. It was during some of her pre-med work, participating and volunteering at the “Teddy Bear Wellness Clinic” offered during the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital’s (ETCH) “Fantasy of Trees,” that Campbell came-up with the idea for Fluffy Friends. Just for good measure, she’s also a Miracle Ambassador for ETCH with the Children’s Miracle Network.

Explaining that she saw young children dealing with the emotional stress and traumatic episodes of diseases like hydrocephalus, sickle cell anemia, and epilepsy, she said, “I solidified the whole fluffy friend concept in 2018,” securing her non-profit designation in June 2019.

Simply stated, Campbell wants to provide young patients with a custom-designed teddy bear that has a pocket in the back which holds something that symbolizes each child’s disease and their struggles to cope with it. She’s currently exploring both copyright and a patent with help from the UTK Legal Clinic.

“Between 25 and 40 percent of children suffering from a chronic illness will develop some form of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and they often face the repercussions of ignorance and stigma associated with their condition,” Campbell explains. “I formed this business to bridge the gap of support that exists once chronically ill patients return home from inpatient care at the hospital. I envision a world in which all patients feel safe and secure.”

When we interviewed her after the Spring edition of the “Vol Court Speaker Series & Pitch Competition” and before either the “Graves Business Plan Competition” or “Boyd Venture Challenge,” Campbell said she was “not quite where I would like to be” in her entrepreneurial journey. One factor, other than the time required for her studies, was timing.

“Nobody is donating big dollars right now,” she said, citing the COVID-19 pandemic that impacted a number of non-profits. In the case of Fluffy Friends, Campbell had found a new supplier, but she needed $ $50,000 to purchase the specially-designed teddy bears for the launch stage at ETCH. With the prize money from the two competitions, she’s on her way.

Each teddy bear will come with an instruction or storybook guide for parents and other cregivers to help acclimate the young patients to their new fluffy friend.

Campbell says that her rollout strategy involves five phases, starting with children with hydrocephalus. From there, she will work successively with those dealing with Turner syndrome, sickle cell anemia, epilepsy and cystic fibrosis. In each case, Campbell plans to engage with physicians who are treating patients with the specific disease.

As noted in the beginning of this article, Campbell jumped right into the deep end of the entrepreneurial pool, so to speak. She praised everyone for the advice and help she has received from the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Haslam College of Business which sponsors the three programs in which she has participated.

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