Student start-ups previously spotlighted here take top two spots in latest “Vol Court” competition

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Two start-ups founded by University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) students and previously spotlighted in captured first and second place last Wednesday night as the curtain came down for the Spring 2022 edition of the “Vol Court Speaker Series & Pitch Competition.”

Hosted by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI) in the Haslam College of Business, the competition featured 16 vastly different business ideas after one individuals withdrew before the pitch event and four others failed to show-up. The three judges – Christie Ekern, Lecturer in the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship; Matt King, formerly of GRIDSMART and now with LYT; and yours truly – ranked the top three as follows:

  • First place and the $1,500 grand prize – Allison Campbell for her not-for-profit start-up named Fluffy Friends for Children with Chronic Conditions;
  • Second place and $1,000 – Clay Franklin for Arid Delivery Products LLC, a business-to-business start-up serving the food delivery sector; and
  • Third place and $500 – Ian Parten for KnoxVerified, a real estate platform for owners of a few residential rental properties.

Allison Campbell

As described in this June 2021 article from, the mission of Fluffy Friends is to ensure young patients with a chronic illness like hydrocephalus, sickle cell anemia, and epilepsy never feel that they are fighting their battle alone. It’s a feeling that Campbell has experienced herself, and her goal is to provide young patients with a custom-designed teddy bear that has a pocket in the back which holds something that symbolizes each child’s disease and their struggles to cope with it.

Campbell has now successfully competed in all three competitions hosted by the Anderson Center. She previously captured first place in the “Lifestyle” category of the “Graves Business Plan Competition” (see our article here) and won another $5,000 in the “Boyd Venture Challenge.” She also won the “Crowd Favorite Award” in last August’s “Pitch for Good: Women Founders Edition” hosted by the Nashville Entrepreneur Center (see our article here) and is now a participant in that organization’s inaugural statewide cohort for the Twende program.

Franklin is a Michigan native who moved with his family to Middle Tennessee when he was 14 years old. As described in this article from last August, Arid Delivery Products is at least Franklin’s third start-up before he even graduates in a couple of months from UTK. During his junior year at Battle Ground Academy, he founded a company with two classmates that designed and sold apparel. In December 2019 as a UTK student, he launched The Dog Park Collective, described on its Facebook page as a “Knoxville-based community that covers everything dog park and dog-related. It is a place where dog-lovers can meet, discuss, share advice, and talk anything else about your pup!”

Clay Franklin

During the competition, Franklin showed the sixth prototype of his “Arid Delivery Bag” that addresses the existing food delivery services conundrum . . . a trade-off between quality and convenience. The bag that he has designed keeps food hot and dry. Franklin won $10,000 in the Spring 2021 “Boyd Venture Challenge.”

Others who presented everything from early stage ideas to functioning companies were:

  • Jonathan Henry with BusiCard, a mobile networking platform;
  • Alexander Krneta of Inter-Gauge, a tool to help instructors of online courses assess how well students are understanding the content that they are delivering;
  • Max Thompson with Common Tern, a matchmaking solution for college students seeking internships and employers recruiting interns;
  • Graham Wallace who pitched Eco Notebook as a tool to consolidate all learning resources for college students;
  • Faith Huskey of Bluebird Coffee Bar who wants to open a new “cool coffee shop” in downtown Knoxville to provide traditional shop faire during the day and alcohol-enhanced products at night;
  • Josef Govednik whose idea for My Size Fitting is to help reduce the number of returns that clothing retailers experience by providing a tool to match size and preference of buyers;
  • Caleb Ross of Terebinth Jewelry who presented the concept of a ring with interchangeable charms;
  • Natalia Capella whose Jira & Company has been in business about a year, offering pop-up shops where, among other items, she sells clothing made from salvaged materials;
  • Alexander Weber of Digi-Twin, a single site to help individuals manage the number of digital subscriptions and cost of them through data mining of usage;
  • Josh Gallardo of U-Air that is focused on combating COVID-19 that could be distributed through the ventilation system in airplanes;
  • Wesley Pitts with Yard Boss Auto-Mowing who services and sells autonomous lawnmowers;
  • Keith Bridges of Knox Goats, an existing business using goats to clear areas of kudzu and other vegetation; and
  • Vue: Find Something to Do, a concept from Hunter Eastland to help people avoid social isolation by linking with others.

The winners are pictured here in a UTK-provided photo with ACEI Executive Director Lynn Youngs. In addition, here’s more information about the Spring edition and the winners in an ACEI posting.

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