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April 04, 2016 | Tom Ballard

Two Knoxville start-ups in this year’s “Charlotte Venture Challenge”

  • Charlotte Venture Challenge

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

More good news for two Knoxville-based start-ups.

Grow Bioplastics, which learned just a few weeks ago that it was selected to participate in the prestigious Rice Business Plan Competition, and Innovasan, which is part of this year’s “The TENN” master accelerator, have been invited to participate in the Charlotte Venture Challenge.

A total of 27 early stage, high growth companies have been selected for the start-up competition set for April 19 at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis. It begins at 12:30 p.m. and wraps-up at 7:30 p.m.

Grow Bioplastics and Innovasan are the only Tennessee companies selected for the event this year. Both are competing in the same category. Click here for a list of the finalists.

For the Knoxville region, it’s at least the third consecutive year that a local start-up has been invited to participate in the North Carolina competition. General Graphene won the 2015 event and recently announced an $8.7 million seed round investment led by Knoxville-based Angel Capital Group. Joy Fisher’s Clodico participated in 2014.

Grow Bioplastics is dedicated to improving food sustainability by offering farmers and gardeners renewable, biodegradable plant containers and mulch films that eliminate oil based plastics. It uses lignin, a waste product from the paper industry. Innovasan has developed a cost effective solution to treat and dispose of fluid medical waste.

For both companies, the Charlotte stop comes in the midst of other competitions. The three-day Rice event where Grow Bioplastics is competing with 41 other start-ups is the previous week (April 14, 15 and 16), while “The TENN” finale is just two days after the Charlotte competition.

“This is the third competition that we have been accepted into in the last few weeks, and while the preparation can seem overwhelming, the support from the Knoxville entrepreneurial community and the staff at the UT Anderson Center has been incredibly helpful,” said Tony Bova, a Co-Founder of Grow Bioplastics. “We hope that our continued success is a testament to the regional investment in supporting entrepreneurship, in particular the efforts put forth by the University of Tennessee to show that great student ideas can really take off if they have a solid platform to do so.”

Jeff Hubrig Jr., Innovasan’s Director of Business Development, echoed Bova’s thoughts.

“Our feelings towards being selected as finalists for the Charlotte Venture Challenge can best be summed up as excitement mixed with anticipation,” he said. “It’s a big, high visibility event and selection as a finalist creates a great deal of opportunity. We’re looking forward to the chance to share our story with an audience of like-minded visionaries and hear many of their stories as well. It will be a busy month full of opportunity with these events in addition to completion of milestones we’ve been working towards for months. Overall, we’re looking forward to the opportunity of helping represent Knoxville and Tennessee at the Charlotte Venture Challenge.”

There are two rounds of competition in Charlotte, starting with a preliminary session where the selected start-ups are divided into four categories: new energy and high tech, IT &and informatics, general (e.g., consumer products and services), and student ventures.

After five-minute pitches and three minutes of questions, winners from each category and “wild cards” will compete in the finale.

In between the two pitches, attendees will hear a keynote speech from Chris Heivly, Co-Founder of MapQuest. His other credits include Managing Director of 77 Capital and an executive at five software companies. Heivly is currently one of two Managing Directors of The Startup Factory, a seed investment fund making 10 to 14 new investments per year.

In the last three years, more than 300 start-up companies have entered the competition for the opportunity to present to potential investors, first customers, and the chance to win over $150,000 in cash prizes.



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