Pitches are in the books for “Startup Day,” awards to be announced Friday

Will it be three sleepless nights for the six Entrepreneurs who pitched their companies during yesterday’s “Startup Day” in Knoxville?

Well, hopefully not, but they will have to wait until late Friday morning when the winner or winners of the two awards are announced. One is determined by the judges, the other by the audience. One company has won both awards in the past.

Because “Startup Day” was offered for the first time virtually rather than in-person, it was decided to hold a celebratory session that begins at 11 a.m. Friday. If you have not registered, you can do so at this link.

In addition to announcing both awards, the event will also feature the presentation of the first-ever “Innov865 Impact Award” that recognizes an inventor who has made a positive impact in the fight against COVID-19. After that presentation, there will be a fireside chat with the winner.

Judges for yesterday’s competition were Sue Malone, a serial judge for “Startup Day” who is with an organization named Strategies for Small Business; Techstars Chris Heivly; and Karen LeVert of Pappas Capital.




Ahead of the pitches, Co-Host Brandon Bruce (pictured in the screenshot above with the judges and Cortney Piper, the other co-host) highlighted many of the accomplishments that occurred in the region in the past year. “It has been an extremely busy and fruitful 2020,” he said, underscoring the “sizzle reel” that featured four local entrepreneurs – Tanika Harper, Hash Hashemian, Bill Malkes and Randy Boyd.

In his comments, the current President of the University of Tennessee (UT) perhaps said it best with this powerful statement: “I owe it to give back to my community.” What a call for others to get more involved, something the region needs!

The six start-ups that pitched were selected based on their extraordinary potential and investability. The companies and some notes from their pitches follow.

  • Songboarding, co-founded by Mike Benn, won the “What’s the Big Idea 48-Hour Pitch Competition,” the last “in-person” event of that type held before COVID-19 hit. The start-up is a subscription-based platform that combines music with safety training, providing employers with a fun and memorable alternative to traditional training methods. Benn said the initial target client is the construction sector, and Songboarding launched a digital marketing campaign this week.
  • 490 BioTech has strong ties to UT. Co-founded by Dan Close, the company makes bioluminescent human cells capable of continuously producing a visual light signal that adjusts in real-time to represent changes in cellular health. The start-up’s glowing cells can be used by pharmaceutical companies in their efforts to develop safer, more effective, and less expensive medicines. Close said the company is ready to “jump out of R&D and into commercial sales” and is on the cusp of hiring a business development person. “We finally have the goods and need to get them to the people who can change the world.”
  • Qardian Labs, founded by Sofia Tomov, develops innovative artificial intelligence-based software solutions for evaluating heart disease risk. The company is dedicated to reducing the occurrence of Sudden Cardiac Arrest by improving screening for people in high stress environments. Tomov was a participant in the second cohort of CO.LAB’s “HealthTech Accelerator” in Chattanooga that wrapped-up in August and the Nashville Entrepreneur Center’sProject Healthcare.” In answer to one of the questions from the judges, Tomov said that the algorithm looks at the interactions between 14 metrics to predict sudden heart failure.
  • Quantum Lock Technologies LLC, a member of Cohort 4 of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) “Innovation Crossroads” program, is developing a smart lock system that is more secure than many current smartphone-based key systems. Quantum Lock’s technology uses quantum physics to generate keys that are random and untraceable. Co-Founder Erica Grant came to Knoxville to participate in the doctoral program of the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, a joint effort of UT and ORNL. She said that Quantum Lock has just learned that its claims have been approved and a patent should be issued soon. “We’re building the brains that go inside these locks,” Grant said in reference to her early target client – the hotel industry.
  • Electro-Active Technologies Inc. is one of the participants in Cohort 3 of the “Innovation Crossroads.” Co-founded by Alex Lewis, Electro-Active is developing a modular system to convert food waste and renewable electricity into low-cost hydrogen. With a novel tagline of “Powering Cities with Waste,” the start-up’s system keeps food waste out of landfills and provides a zero-emission fuel to offset gasoline and diesel use.
  • PowerUp Fitness, founded by Stacy Baugues, certifies wellness champions as youth fitness instructors and provides them with the training and support needed to empower youth through fitness, education, and fun in their communities. She’s was a participant in the recently completed Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s “The Works 2020” start-up accelerator. PowerUp Fitness is on a growth curve. Since we posted this article less than a month ago, the start-up is now in 20 states – 91 in-person sites, up from 65 at the beginning of the month, and 111 virtual sites, up from 90.

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