By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Less than 45 minutes after Tom Graves of the University of Tennessee’s (UT) Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI) started the festivities with some opening comments, 17 individuals had pitched their ideas in the finale for the “Spring Vol Court” program.
The concepts they presented during the rapid fire pitches that lasted a max of 90 seconds covered the gamut – an app that recreates the playing with toy experience of youngsters, an online resource for new residents of Knoxville that has already attracted 2,000 users in its first six months, an environmentally friendly fertilizer that increases crop yields by as much as five times, an app using artificial intelligence to match people seeking apartments to their best options, a service to help hikers in the Himalayas find experienced guides that has secured 20 bookings in just two weeks, and a self-serve beer tap to expedite the purchasing process.
You get the picture; the ideas were very diverse, but the passion of the presenters was clearly evident. It was also a diverse group of presenters who had spent five consecutive Wednesday evenings in educational sessions that helped prepare them for Wednesday night’s finale.
A large classroom on the bottom floor of the Haslam College was packed with the presenters, supporters, and other interested people.
In the end, the judging panel, which included yours truly, had the task of selecting three winners. They were:
- First place and $1,500 – Simple Supplements, presented by Florin Matei, a UT student and self-described fitness buff. The idea was an easy way to deliver protein via something similar to the one-use packets for dishwashers and washing machines.
- Second place and $1,000 – Sparrow Drones, presented by Matt Young. The idea is a mobile signal service or rescue device for first responders like firefighters who are challenged at times by failure of traditional radio communications systems during emergencies.
- Third place and $500 – μRNA, presented by Sushmitha Vijaya Kumar, another UT student, whose idea is a virus detection kit.
“My roommates aren’t going to believe this,” an obviously very excited Matei said when his idea was announced as the top winner.
The semi-annual “Vol Court” program is coordinated by ACEI and Shawn Carson, a long-time player in the local entrepreneurial support system. The presenting sponsor is Cirrus Insight with other sponsors including, in alphabetical order, FundingSage, Hard Knox Pizzeria, The IT Company, Launch Tennessee, Morehous Legal Group, PYA and teknovation.biz, Three Roots Capital, and UT Research Foundation.