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May 14, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Three students win, completing Anderson Center’s trifecta of competitions

The top prize in the "Boyd Venture Challenge" went to Wesley Pitts, who founded KnoxBots, an innovative robotic lawn care company. The start-up was awarded $20,000.

The trifecta is now complete.

After hosting and awarding funding to nine students during two entrepreneurial competitions earlier in the semester, the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville announced last week the winners of the penultimate third event – the “Boyd Venture Challenge.”

Taking the top prize was Wesley Pitts, a sophomore marketing major from Knoxville, who founded KnoxBots, an innovative robotic lawn care company. The start-up was awarded $20,000, adding to its haul after placing first in the growth category during last month’s “Graves Business Plan Competition” where he won $5,000. Pitts is also a frequent competitor in ACEI’s third program – “Vol Court Speaker Series & Pitch Competition.”

“Winning money in the ‘Boyd Venture Challenge’ is a game-changer for KnoxBots,” Pitts said. “It helps us build a solid foundation and accelerate our growth, especially in the commercial sphere. This award confirms that we’re on the right path and gives us the confidence to keep moving forward.”

Biomedical engineering senior Alexandria Carter’s company — MNM — received $5,000 from the competition. Carter, a Knoxville native, started MNM to elevate and innovate the kitchen after her lifelong passion for baking. MNM offers kitchen appliances that balance the line of smart, modular, and convenient products.

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

ZNAKICKS, a source for securing exclusive and authentic sneakers, was awarded $5,000. Zain Zitawi, a sophomore marketing major from Knoxville, founded ZNAKICKS after seeing the need for a reliable and authentic source in the growing sneaker market. ZNAKICKS has already served hundreds of customers.

“Winning this money in the ‘Boyd Venture Challenge’ is going to give us the boost we need to reach the next level,” Zitawi said.

Judges for this year’s event were:

The “Boyd Venture Challenge” is made possible by the generosity of the Boyd Foundation. Since the fund’s inception in 2011, 49 student-owned companies have been awarded a total of $529,500 in seed capital to advance their businesses.



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