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March 06, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Competition was stiff at Sunday night’s “What’s the Big Idea? Pitch Competition”

The seventh of seven pitches took home the $10,000 prize in this annual pitch competition from the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center.

It may have been the most competitive “What’s the Big Idea? Pitch Competition” ever as the judges took more than the time they had been allotted before returning to Scruffy City Hall on Sunday night to announce that B-Roll Bank was the winner.

Organized and hosted by the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC), the all-weekend event pairs start-up founders – some with papered companies, others simply with an idea – and mentors to advance their concept. They work most of the 48-hour period to develop a better pitch, discuss marketing strategies, finetune financials and focus, and, in previous competitions, actually change the name of the company.

From all indications, none of the founders changed their focus from the ideas they outlined in the brief videos they submitted as part of the application process. The competitors ranged from a member of the “Innovation Crossroads” program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory focused on recycled glass to a space and software tool for performing artists, a tool to automate social media marketing for solopreneurs, a business providing wig services for individuals losing their hair, a group travel app focused on student trips, an artificial intelligence (AI)-based tool to help non-English speaking individuals, and an AI-powered digital asset manager for production houses.

Jonathan Halley, Founder and Executive Producer at Big Slate Media, pitched the winning idea in the number seven spot and won the $10,000 grand prize provided by the Knoxville Chamber. He explained that companies such as his have a big problem with the storage of video clips and their later retrieval. Halley developed the tool, which is a search engine, to support Big Slate Media, but said there were more than 6,000 production shops in the country that could benefit from the tool.

“This thing exists, but there is a lot more work to do,” he added.

Last year’s winner was Femeika Elliott of Meik Meals, a start-up focused on ensuring a healthier eating regime to help new mothers deal with postpartum. She announced the winner and joined KEC’s Chris McAdoo in presenting the symbolic check.

Judges for the competition were: (1) Melissa Centers, a new addition to the Knoxville ecosystem after a successful corporate career that included serving as Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Secretary of State Auto Insurance; (2) Patrick Hunt, Chief Strategy Officer at Lirio; and (3) Damon Rawls, Principal Strategist at The Innovation Digital Agency. The three are also KEC volunteers.

The other competitors, in the order they pitched, were:

  • Vitriform3D, the “Innovation Crossroads” company focused on the reuse of glass rather than simply sending it to the landfill. For Sunday night’s presentation, Co-Founder Dustin Gilmer described one opportunity which involves taking discarded glass and using it to make molds that can then be used to make aerospace parts. Noting that aircraft molding is expensive and time-consuming, Gilmer said the start-up plans to build a facility in the Knoxville area.
  • Jaleria Rivera founded SpaceCraft nearly a year ago to serve as a community rehearsal space for artists and organizations. Explaining that Knoxville is losing performing artists to other cities because it does not have such a facility, her vision is broad . . . “not just a space but an artist ecosystem,” a software platform to connect performing artists and venues, and eventually other locations.
  • SimplePost Social is an AI-based app that is focused on solopreneurs who lack the time to focus on social media and the budget to hire someone for the task. With a goal to “automate social media marketing for small businesses,” Alexander Leon explained that he has three Beta users now, and they are able to create content in 20 seconds using the proprietary software he developed.
  • Siobian Jones of The Mighty Wig said that she is not a novice to the hair loss industry, having been involved in various ways for 20 years. “I want to take to confusion out of the buying experience,” she said. Her three-step process starts with a questionnaire, then allows the buyer to try the ideal wig for a period of time before purchasing that one or try a different one.
  • For David Schwall, the experience of chaperoning a student trip that involved an unexpected delay began the process of developing TravL. He described it as a “comprehensive digital tool” that manages all communications with parents, students, teachers, and chaperones including the schedule and any changes, messaging, and even the ability to share photos. Schwall has bootstrapped the venture, and the app is available for Google and Apple devices.
  • Moon Ma came to the U.S. from Asia seven years ago and was immediately challenged by language barriers. “Communication is our entrance to the world,” she explained, adding, “I want everyone to feel comfortable in the language they speak.” The result is SpeakBit, a start-up she co-founded with her husband. It uses AI to improve communication confidence among non-English speakers.

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