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May 12, 2019 | Tom Ballard

Grassy Ridge Coffee wins latest “Pitches & Pints” competition in Johnson City

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

A company that utilizes artificial intelligence to deliver just the correct coffee options to its customers captured the top prize in the fourth edition of “Pitches & Pints.”

The competition, held Thursday night in Downtown Johnson City, drew seven presenters and about 75 people in all to The VENUE at King’s Centre. “Pitches & Pints” is organized by the “Startup Tri-Cities” group led by David Nelson, Edwin Williams and Arnab Chakraborty.

While the event was focused on Northeast Tennessee, Knoxville was represented beyond just yours truly and my wife. Cliff Caudill, Chair of SCORE’s Greater Knoxville Chapter, was one of the five judges, and Elizabeth Rowland of the TN-China Network, who was in the area on business, joined the festivities.

By winning to competition, Jeff Rainey of Grassy Ridge Coffee took away $1,000. Other winners were Caleb Taber of Tempak who won free intellectual property legal services, and Chase Day of Ready Up! Gaming Café who won a gift certificate to attend the next CO.STARTERS class.

Brad Batt, Founder of BlueZebra Sports, served as master of ceremonies. His company is based in Spark Plaza (see this article from Friday’s edition of as is Grassy Ridge Coffee and Nelson’s BrewFund.

In addition to Caudill, other judges included Tony Lettich of The Angel Roundtable, Mark Bays of the Tennessee Small Business Development Center, Liz Bennett of East Tennessee State University’s (ETSU) Innovation Lab, and Sonu Mirchandani, also of ETSU.

Ahead of the seven pitches, Nelson spent a few minutes familiarizing the attendees with the sponsoring organization. “We have a give before you get mentality,” he explained. “We are a flat network . . . open to anyone.” As noted in a recent post, Nelson said that “Startup Tri-Cities” has reorganized into a 501(c)(6) membership organization and will be encouraging groups to host their own events.

Presenters in the order they pitched were:

  • Muneer Uddin who discussed Civic365, an app that allows users to have civil conversations, share their views, and engage with their elected officials.
  • Chace Vineski and Chris Frazer who presented Unboxed Reality, a start-up based on something called reality capture technology that can be used in a variety of ways such as immersive safety training.
  • Steve Nice who pitched Smart World, a one-stop marketplace for sustainable products that we first spotlighted in this January 2018 biz article.
  • Day and his Ready Up! Gaming Café that is a place where individuals can play games in a safe environment while also experiencing new technologies and connect with similar-minded individuals.
  • Taber and his concept of Tempak which is a wrist-worn device, based on something called the peltier effect that can cool or heat the blood of individuals depending on whether they are too hot or too cold.
  • Caitlin Emond who pitched Smart Packaging as a combination of technologies to help visually-impaired individuals shop in an easier manner by combining something similar to QR codes with smart glasses.
  • Rainey and Grassy Ridge Coffee are already shipping their product in Tennessee with plans to expand.

Here’s a picture of all the presenters, judges, and key principals in “Startup Tri-Cities.” Thanks to Rowland for providing it.

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