Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
August 09, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Start-up’s name represents those who got founder hooked on baking

The recent UT, Knoxville graduate is a double winner of student competitions for a rechargeable hand mixer that is completely modular.

The name MNM LLC probably has little, if any meaning to readers, but it is very special to Alex Carter, a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). It represents the names of the three people who got her hooked on baking.

The first M is for one grandmother with the nickname Mommon who died in April, the second letter is for the other grandmother she refers to as Nana, and the last M is her mother. “I was grieving Mommon and decided to rededicate the business in honor of her,” Carter said.

That effort paid off for the soon-to-be graduate student at Vanderbilt University who won $5,000 for her idea in the latest edition of the “Boyd Venture Challenge” hosted by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI) in UTK’s Haslam College of Business. She also won the top prize and another $5,000 in the Growth Category of the fall edition of the “Graves Business Plan Competition” for the idea then known as Out of the Box Appliances.

“To win money in the ‘Boyd Venture Challenge’ means I can continue pursuing my dreams of combining passion with academic interest,” Carter said in a news release announcing the winners of the competition. “It means I can live up to the name of my company and make the inspirers of my baking passion always proud.”

Carter says her father taught her how to cook an egg at age eight, and she has been baking ever since with support from her two grandmothers and her mother. Along with Ethan Ly, her boyfriend and soon-to-be UTK graduate in computer engineering, they have conceived a line of kitchen products to aid those who are bakers elevate the kitchen experience. The first is a rechargeable hand mixer that is completely modular and for which Carter has secured a provisional patent for the smart battery.

Coming to UTK, however, was not in Carter’s plans.

“I wanted to go to California and had scholarship offers from UC San Diego and UCLA,” she says. After receiving a full-ride scholarship offer from UTK, she decided to forego the plans for California and major in materials science. Later, she switched to biomedical engineering and met two longtime players in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem who would ignite an entrepreneurial spark in the Knoxville Catholic High School graduate.

“Shawn Carson was a guest speaker in an entrepreneurial class taught by Eric Dobson,” Carter said. Carson is a Lecturer in the Haslam College, while Dobson is the Chief Executive Officer of the Sheltowee Angel Network.

“Dr. Carson probably doesn’t realize how much he inspired me to pursue entrepreneurship,” she said, adding that Dobson has become a business advisor and helped her file for the provisional patent. “He (Dobson) said that this was an incredible idea.”

Of her boyfriend and partner in MNM LLC, Carter says, “He’s a huge computer guy who takes pride in the projects he does outside the classroom, too.”

After winning $5,000 in the “Graves Business Plan Competition,” the duo decided that it was time to either move forward or stop working on the idea. They had done some customer discovery.

“For the most part, we got a ton of positive feedback,” Carter said. Then, after Mommom’s death, they redoubled their efforts.

As she pursues her M.S. in Biomedical Engineering at Vanderbilt, she is also excited about getting connected with The Wond’ry, the university’s three-story, 13,000-square-foot innovation center.

“We’ll continue to work on the initial product and customer discovery,” Carter says. One upcoming idea is to incorporate a texture sensor to ensure the proper viscosity of items that are being baked.

“I see myself being most successful in entrepreneurship,” she says in relation to her career opportunities. “I want to be part of it all . . . learn it all.”

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