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Weekend edition November 17, 2023 | Katelyn Keenehan

Anderson Center celebrates million dollar milestone

The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville has helped many students turn their startup ideas into reality.

The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (ACEI) celebrated the awarding of the millionth dollar to University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) student entrepreneurs at the Fall 2023 Graves Business Plan Competition Awards Ceremony.

Steve Mangum, Dean of Haslam College

Steve Mangum, the dean of the Haslam College of Business, kicked off Friday’s event with a bit of background about the history of excellence and funding at ACEI.

The center was founded in 2009 and named in 2010. The first Vol Court pitch competition took place in 2010, and the first Boyd Venture Challenge took place in 2011. Then, the business accelerator opened in 2017.

Breanna Hale, the new Executive Director for ACEI, announced the placement for the Growth and Lifestyle category winners in the Graves Business Plan Competition. These awards led to the millionth dollar being given to student startups.

“These are some really hardworking, creative, thoughtful, innovative individuals. So it’s truly my pleasure to be able to be here and deliver the awards,” Hale said.

Cody Blankenship, Growth winner

Cody Blankenship, the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Flock Analytics, took first place in the Growth category of the competition (see feature). The company is based around tracking visitation data and growth for churches.

Katy Daniels, Founder of The Henry BnB (Bed & Barn), secured first place in the Lifestyle category of the competition. Her business plan surrounds transforming her great grandmother’s property in Seymour into a customized experience for people to rent. Daniels said the property would offer opportunities to garden, farm, meet animals, and participate in other farm-like activities.

Katy Daniels, Lifestyle winner

Graves is the second tier of three business pitch programs at UTK. The first round is the Vol Court, which is focused on a business idea. Graves kicks up the competition with more money. However, the most sought-after start-up funding is through the annual Boyd Venture Challenge, where the top company could win up to $30,000 in start-up capital. The Boyd Venture Challenge has more defined business benchmarks the companies must reach.

“These competitions are a great way to help alleviate some of the early startup costs because it does cost money to start a business,” Hale said. “Hopefully, those that go home with funding today, know that UT believes in them, the Anderson Center believes in them. We believe they are impressive and we want to keep seeing their growth and their progress in moving these businesses forward.”

The room was packed with folks who generously support the efforts of the Anderson Center. Even Smoky made an appearance for the major milestone.


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