(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third article in a series focused on opportunities for University of Tennessee, Knoxville students to hone their entrepreneurial ideas.)
As noted in our set-up article for this series, the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI) in the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee’s (UT) Knoxville campus is a key player in the institution’s activities to help students hone their entrepreneurial aspirations.
The Center offers three competitions, each with a monetary award that helps students. The programs are the twice-a-year “Vol Court Speaker Series & Pitch Competition,” “Graves Business Plan Competition,” and “Boyd Venture Challenge.”
We wanted to know how these initiatives helped students, so we asked several past winners to share their thoughts. Our first response came from Lia Winter, a graduate student pursuing both an MBA and a Master’s in Biomedical Engineering (see yesterday’s teknovation.biz article). Today, we hear from Baker Donahue who came to UT Knoxville from Franklin, TN and just graduated from the College of Communication and Information.
What stimulated you to become interested in entrepreneurship? I had an idea of a start-up in the summer of 2016. After experiencing a great seal of success in my initial efforts, I sought out opportunities to get involved in business and entrepreneurship. As a communication studies student, I couldn’t just tack on another major, so I came across the minor in entrepreneurship. This minor led me to participate in all that the Anderson Center has to offer.
What is the name of the current idea or actual start-up that you are pursuing and will you briefly describe it? In With The Old specializes in recirculating retro collegiate apparel. Since its founding at UT, we have called six additional universities and secured massive amounts of inventory from years past.
Is it your first venture or were there others? If others, what were they? I have had several side hustles throughout my college career, but none as successful as In With The Old. Last semester, I started a bicycle delivery company called Free For The Fort. We reached a point where we were receiving 30 to 40 orders per night and our riders were making $10 to $15 per hour. Unfortunately, this business had to come to an end with the time commitment and changing of the seasons (i.e., it got really cold to bike around the Fort all night). I have had experience with independent creative consulting and live event planning as well.
How has the Anderson Center programming helped you advance your current project/start-up? My fist competition was the “Boyd Venture Challenge.” Being a Communication Studies major, I was not very articulate in business lingo, although I found success in this competition. I knew I had a lot more to learn. This led me to participate in all of the Anderson Center programs and seek mentoring from the staff. Concluding this semester, I will have just completed ENT 499 and independent research study. During this course, I had the creative freedom to identify a problem within the Anderson Center and address it in entrepreneurial fashion. I had identified that student pitches were lacking in their financial understanding, and the weakest department of involvement were the accounting and finance students. These findings allowed me to create a program for finance/accounting students to advise student start-ups in the financials portion of their next pitch. Applicants from the Financial Advisory Committee (the program I created) were paired with an accepted start-up from the “Graves Business Plan Competition.” Each student advisor was required to meet before their paired start-up’s pitched and review their financial statements. The student advisors were also allowed to sit in on the judges’ deliberation and report back to their start-up. These competitions have offered me an incredible amount of knowledge in the business sphere and allowed me to find success in the start-up world as a communication studies major
What are your entrepreneurial plans going forward, either with the idea on which you won or generally? After an intense amount of learning from my start-up (In With The Old), I have found a way to pursue it full-time after graduation (that occurred in May). This is a scary and uncertain endeavor, but as most millennials say . . . YOLO. I have plans to apply for my MBA at UT Knoxville and apply for the Entrepreneurial Fellowship. It may be the start-up that I am operating today, or it may be my next idea 10 years from now, but I have the entrepreneurial bug and plan on sticking with it.
Donahue has big plans for the Tennessee-Florida football weekend. Continue reading to learn about those plans.