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April 07, 2024 | Tom Ballard

Anderson Center awards $20,000 to six student start-ups

The event was the wrap-up of the spring semester's "Graves Business Plan Competition."

The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville celebrated winners in its “Graves Business Plan Competition” at an event on Friday morning.

The spring edition of the twice-a-year featured an array of student-led businesses and a panel of expert judges consisting of five successful entrepreneurs who selected winners in two categories – lifestyle and growth. The former is for start-ups targeted to support local or smaller-scale opportunities, while the latter is for start-ups seeking large investment with high scalability.

Breanna Hale, ACEI Executive Director, said 40 students applied for this semester’s competition, and 12 were selected as finalists. In brief comments, Stephen Mangum, Dean of the Haslam College of Business, congratulated the student entrepreneurs and added that the “Anderson Center will be a hallmark of the new (business) building.” That includes expanded space.

Ahead of the announcement, each of the 12 finalists made a 30-second elevator pitch about their business idea.

The Winners

First place and $5,000 in the growth category was awarded to T Squared Putters, founded by Tony and Mike Tuber, brothers from Buffalo, NY. They also won first place in the spring 2024 “Vol Court” pitch competition (see article here). Their company crafts premium putters with unparalleled precision and customization options, empowering golfers to elevate their game with confidence. Tony is a senior marketing major, and Mike is a junior majoring in finance.

First place and $5,000 in the lifestyle category went to the Pink Apron, a bakery founded by three Knoxville natives with a deep appreciation for European pastry craftsmanship. Connor Langford, a junior marketing major, Maxwell Coggin, a junior chemical engineering major, and Zachary Barron, a junior business management major, teamed up to form the Knoxville-based bake shop that specializes in authentic European pastries. With fresh daily deliveries to local coffee shops, Pink Apron focuses on traditional craftsmanship to elevate Knoxville’s coffee scene one delicious bite at a time.

Other winners in the growth category were:

  • Spartronic, a laser tag system that allows users to create new game modes and customize their experience, captured second place and $3,000 went to. Ethan McFarland, a sophomore electrical engineering major from Knoxville, founded the company after seeing an opportunity to combine science, technology, engineering and math education and laser tag.
  • Aeroshine, a business founded by Camden Shuman, a junior mechanical engineering major from Asheville, NC, took third place and $2,000. Aeroshine harnesses drone technologies to make cleaning Knoxville mid-rise buildings and solar farms better, faster, cheaper, and safer than ever before.

Second and third place winners in the lifestyle category were:

  • Dogwood Picnics, founded by Emma Lakatosh, a junior business analytics major from Knoxville, took second place and the $3,000 prize. As a picnic enthusiast, she wanted to bring a convenient and affordable option to her hometown. Dogwood Picnics delivers all the components for a quality picnic at a fraction of competitors’ prices, allowing customers to enjoy creating unique memories with the ones they love.
  • Rocket City Refill, a zero-waste refill store dedicated to providing clean products, placed third with a $2,000 prize. Josie Rich, a senior computer science major from Nashville, founded Rocket City Refill out of a desire to help people be more conscious and intentional about the things they buy, emphasizing that small changes can make a big impact over time.

For the first time, the “Graves Business Plan Competition” awards ceremony included an additional prize – the Spark Innovation Award. Sponsored by the Spark Innovation Center, it was presented to Lite Power Analytics in recognition of the business’ novel approach to addressing important energy problems. Founded by Kyle Weiss, an energy science and engineering graduate student from Seattle, WA, Lite Power Analytics provides accessible and affordable energy dispatch systems and pricing models.

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