Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
May 07, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

Laborup wins $15,000 in the Boyd Venture Challenge

The Boyd Venture Challenge is a seed-fund grant competition conducted in the spring semester each year.

The “Boyd Venture Challenge” is one of the largest opportunities for students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) to secure capital. Companies who participate have an opportunity to win up to $30,000 in start-up capital.

This year, the competition was tough. There were double the amount of applicants than in years past, and the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI) was ecstatic about it.

“There was a lot of deliberation amongst the judges this year, especially regarding how much money should go to each start-up,” said Breanna Hale, the Executive Director of ACEI. “That’s a good problem to have, it means we had a lot of great companies.”

She gave the floor to the President of the UT System, Randy Boyd, who started and continues to fund the Boyd Venture Challenge.  He shared his background in entrepreneurship and offered a word of encouragement to the student founders in the room.

“I learned more from my failures than my successes,” Boyd said. “Some of your businesses may succeed, but most may fail. So go forth, fail quickly, and learn from every part of the process.”

Nine student-owned companies pitched their business to a panel of judges for the 2024 Boyd Venture Challenge. They ran the gamut of industries from analytics software and manufacturing golf equipment, to advanced tactical gameplay and robotic mowers.

Four companies secured funding from the competition.

Mikey Napier, the Founder of Napier Athletics secured $2,500 for her Pickleball tournament start-up.

Randy Boyd and Mickey Napier
Randy Boyd and Mickey Napier, Napier Athletics

Cody Blankenship, the Founder of Flock Analytics secured $5,000 toward developing his analytics software for churches.

Randy Boyd and Cody Blankenship
Randy Boyd and Cody Blankenship, Flock Analytics

Wesley Pitts, the Founder of KnoxBots was awarded $7,500 to go toward growing his robotic lawn care business.

Randy Boyd and Wesley Pitts
Randy Boyd and Wesley Pitts, KnoxBots

The largest pre-seed funding went to Logan O’Neal, Braden Hechmer, and Simba Jonga, the Founder of Laborup. They took home $15,000 to go toward growing their company, which is a hiring platform for manufacturing jobs.


Randy Boyd, Logan O’Neal, and Braden Hechmer, Laborup

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