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October 28, 2014 | Tom Ballard

Grow Bioplastics wins “Fall Vol Court” competition

Vol Court 2By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

Grow Bioplastics, a start-up built around lignin, won last night’s “Vol Court Speaker Series” pitch competition, besting four other competitors in the twice-a-year finale coordinated by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the University of Tennessee’s (UT) Haslam College of Business Administration.

Second place went to Barboards, a company filling a growing absence of drink coasters in bars.

Grow Bioplastics, organized by four students from the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, is focused on developing innovative, homegrown, high-performance plastic and rubber materials based on lignin, a non-food, renewable waste stream from the biofuels and paper industry.

Two of the team members – Tony Bova and Jeff Beegle – presented their idea that builds on work they are doing at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

“We want to change the paradigm,” Beegle said, referencing an oft-expressed statement that “you can make anything from lignin but money.” While they have multiple industry targets from children’s products to pet products, Grow Bioplastics plans to initially focus on producing resin filaments for 3D printers.

Michael Bowie, the founder of Barboards, seeks to make money while filling a void in coasters that were formerly provided by beer companies and others. He wants to “turn coasters into conversations” by selling logo type advertising on them to bars that sign exclusive arrangements with his company.

The other teams pitching last night were:

  • Ski Skins, a user-designed, crowd sourcing graphics application for snow skis and snowboards, presented by Jake Rheude;
  • Catalyst Cycling, a company presented by Justin Clark that is focused on “reinventing the bike” by starting with racing wheels; and
  • Cubular, Michael Tierney’s idea for a modular furniture company that allows the changing-out of components to meet changing needs and desires of individuals.

“Vol Court” is sponsored by the UT Federal Credit Union (UTFCU), UT Research Foundation (UTRF), Morehous Legal Group, Launch Tennessee, and Pershing Yoakley & Associates, the power behind Judges were Stacey Patterson, UTRF Vice President; Myra Hamilton, UTFCU Business Services Manager; David Morehous; and teknovation Editor Tom Ballard.

In addition to a $1,000 cash prize, Grow Bioplastics also received free rent for a year in the UT Research Foundation Business Incubator as well as various professional services.

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