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September 27, 2023 | Tom Ballard

KnoxBots wins $25,000 in two Anderson Center pitch competitions

The start-up founded by Wesley Pitts is bringing robotic mowers to lawns and golf courses near you.

Have you ever heard of robotic mowing?

Maybe you have, maybe you have not. That said, if University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) student Wesley Pitts is successful, you are not only going to know about robotic mowing but might very well be the proud owner of such a device.

He’s a junior marketing major who grew up in Budapest, Hungary where his parents were missionaries. Today, Pitts is a double winner in competitions hosted by UTK’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation – capturing a total of $25,000 in successive months by winning first place in the growth category of the “Graves Business Plan Competition” and doubling down less than a month later by taking the top prize in the “Boyd Venture Challenge.”

More importantly, he has a burgeoning business named KnoxBots that is focused on bringing robotic mowers to the region to serve everything from individual lawns to campuses, golf courses, athletic fields, and other large or hard-to-mow areas. And Pitts is also a full-time college student and U.S. Air National Guard, leaving him limited time for other activities.

Like many U.S.-based teenagers, he had a lawn mowing service in Hungary when he was introduced to robotic mowers. Pitts was visiting one of his high school classmates when he saw the small autonomous device mowing the family’s law. He recalls thinking, “There’s no way that they never mow their yard.”

Pitts quickly learned that robotic mowing is much more widespread across Europe than it is in America. In fact, it is projected to generate $2.1 billion USD in revenue annually by 2027 on sales of 3.6 million units annually.

With extended family in the area, it made sense that Pitts would return to Tennessee to attend UTK, but he already had a much larger goal in mind when he arrived.

“I knew I wanted to start a business,” he said, deciding to focus on robotic mowers. Pitts even took out a bank loan in February 22 to purchase autonomous mowers and prepare to become a dealer. His first dealer’s license was issued by Husqvarna.

Those aggressive growth plans, and Pitts’ college work, were interrupted for about five months on May 31, 2022, when the Air Force Reserves sent him to San Antonio, TX for basic and advanced training. After finishing that training in early December, Pitts doubled down on KnoxBots and focused on growing the start-up. He set a goal of selling 30 robotic mowers in 2023 and recorded 27 sales through mid-year.

“I feel like I’m hitting my stride,” he told us.

Today, KnoxBots provides everything from mowing services for clients to sales and service for robotic mowers. In addition to Husqvarna, the company also sells WORX, Echo Robotics, Robomow, Gardenia, and Mamotion robotic mowers.

Pitts is exploring developing his own line of robotic mowers as well as exploring additional opportunities for autonomous devices like a pressure washer.

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