By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
A team that won the “Fall 2014 Vol Court Pitch Competition” has been selected as one of 42 companies to present next month at the prestigious Rice Business Plan Competition, billed as the “world’s richest and largest graduate-level student start-up competition.”
The event, hosted in Houston, TX, is set for April 14, 15 and 16, and will include Grow Bioplastics. The local company was founded by students from the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, a joint initiative between the University of Tennessee (UT) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
“We’re a Knoxville-based start-up dedicated to improving food sustainability by offering farmers and gardeners renewable, biodegradable plant containers and mulch films that eliminate oil based plastics from our agricultural system,” the company says on its webpage. “By making use of lignin, a waste product from the paper industry, we’re improving the sustainability of agriculture and home gardening, while keeping plastic and lignin from going to the landfill.”
Two of the team members – Tony Bova and Jeff Beegle – last pitched their company on February 13 at the “What’s the Big Idea” 48-hour business plan competition.
“I’m super proud of all of the effort put in by our team to get to this point,” Bova said in a Facebook post. “A huge shout out to our mentors at Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation located at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, as well as support from Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, Code Kickoff, orange daisy, Tech 2020, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, . . . and anyone else we may have missed – there are so many!”
The Rice event, now in its 16th year, features teams from all over the world competing for more than $1.5 million in cash and prizes. Grow Bioplastics is one of five start-ups in the competition that were selected from Southeastern Conference schools.
“This is a great example of the progress being made by local teams involved in creating more interdisciplinary research opportunities that involve UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” Lynn Youngs, Executive Director of UT’s Anderson Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said. He is also serving as a Faculty Advisor to Grow Bioplastics.
“This illustrates the impact that a combination of technology and business skills can have,” he added.
As noted in previous posts on teknovation.biz, one of the goals of the planners of the Bredesen Center was to inspire a subset of the doctoral students to start local companies. It is clear that Grow Biosplastics brings additional credence to that strategy.