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June 10, 2021 | Tom Ballard

Four UTK student start-ups awarded $30,000 in latest “Boyd Venture Challenge”

Four businesses owned by students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), were awarded a total of $30,000 in seed funds in the spring edition of the “Boyd Venture Challenge.”

Arid Delivery Products and The Sleepy Owl Company received $10,000 each, while BusiCard and Fluffy Friends for Children with Chronic Conditions were awarded $5,000 each. The event is one of several start-ups competitions organized by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Haslam College of Business, hosts the annual grant competition.

Graves (far left) with the winners and UT President Randy Boyd.

“Early-stage funding is challenging, even when the entrepreneur has identified a real market need,” said Tom Graves, Operations Director for the Anderson Center  who also directs the competition. “The ‘Boyd Venture Challenge’ creates an opportunity for our aspiring student entrepreneurs to overcome this hurdle and achieve the next important milestones in their business success.”

Here’s more about the four.

  • Clay Franklin founded Arid Delivery Products because of a fundamental disconnect he observed in the food delivery industry. The junior finance major from Franklin, TN is also a Grubhub delivery driver said that “on-demand food delivery apps are technology companies, not customer service companies. Consequently, consumers are forced to sacrifice quality for convenience. I knew there was a solution, so I am creating a product that keeps food hot and moisture-free throughout transit.” The funding will enable Franklin to create, iterate and finalize his prototype for the Arid Delivery Bag that disrupt the current on-demand food delivery process by transforming the perception of food delivery quality and enhance customer enjoyment.
  • Mekal Smith, a masters student from Chattanooga, was inspired to found The Sleepy Owl Company by the untimely death of his best friend. “He loved writing short stories and manuscripts,” Smith said. “His stories were so detailed that I wished I could see a visual representation of what he wrote on his pages. The idea for the Sleepy Owl Company was created to allow authors access to a platform that would grant them the ability to write a story or upload completed stories and attach digital media to the words of that story.” The underlying technology is called D.R.E.A.M, an acronym that stands for Digital Recordings of Enjoyable Acquired Moments. “The award money will propel The Sleepy Owl company toward acquiring a patent for the D.R.E.A.M. concept and also will allow us to acquire Amazon Web Services to make the platform more innovative,” Smith said.
  • BusiCard, a user-friendly mobile application that eliminates the need for paper business cards and allows users to store and sort business card information on their phone, is the creation of Jonathan Henry, a senior from Williamsburg, VA, and Tiho Nikolic, a junior from La Vergne, TN. “We saw the perfect opportunity to enhance business networking, and we want to leave our mark on the professional world,” Nikolic said. “The Boyd Venture Challenge competition has allowed us to further expand on our business’s plans and strategies. The award money will help us move forward with bettering our product and getting it to consumers.”
  • Founded by Allison Campbell, a recent UTK graduate, Fluffy Friends for Children with Chronic Conditions is working toward a world in which all patients living with a lifelong illness feel safe and secure. “Up to 40 percent of chronically ill children develop some form of PTSD,” said Knoxville resident Campbell. “I wanted to comfort children with a fluffy friend with a matching diagnosis so they would never feel they were fighting their battle alone.” Fluffy Friends for Children with Chronic Conditions is a (501)(c)(3) that gives teddy bears with a hidden pocket hiding a symbol of their matching diagnosis to children in the hospital.

The “Boyd Venture Challenge” is open to UTK undergraduate and graduate students from any field of study that have a “papered” company. Since the fund’s inception in 2011, 44 student-owned companies have been awarded a total of $472,000 in seed capital to advance their businesses. The competition is made possible by a grant from The Boyd Foundation.

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