Sing and Spell wins “What’s the Big Idea”

Big Idea 2015By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

Some 48 hours after they started their journey, the seven finalists in this year’s revamped “What’s the Big Idea” competition presented their refined concepts to an appreciative audience last night at the Scruffy City Hall on Market Square in Downtown Knoxville.

Sing and Spell, an innovative way to combine music and letter sounds to help pre-readers and those learning English as a second language, won the competition and up to $10,000 to help accelerate the concept. The idea originates from the Children’s Media Studio in South Knoxville. With a tagline of “Education Made Fun,” Sing and Spell was presented by Catherine-Mary Vangieri, a retired school teacher. Here she is making the pitch.






Other participants were:

  • Barboards Creative advertising though beverage coasters. Entrepreneur is Michael Bowie
  • RESQUEA social media manager, scheduler, and educational Web-app platform for real estate professionals. Entrepreneur is Michael Goldsborough.
  • Game Day WeekendersHelping ease the college football fan’s experience of attending away games. Entrepreneur is Kevin White.
  • Pixel Zombies’s Sumo-Kun Gaming GearCreating gear for serious gamers. Entrepreneur is Lisa Page.
  • Traditional CigarA craft cigar company with a focus of not only delivering a memorable experience to customers, but to educate them through the process.  Entrepreneur is Zachary Slabaugh.
  • Maker NetworksMaking 3-D printing possible from any device, any time. Entrepreneur is Ben Farmer.

The event, first launched in 2009 as the “Fairview Business Plan Competition,” was revamped this year to follow the popular 48-hour launch format. Under this approach, entrepreneurs spend a concentrated period, rather than as many as 14 weeks, working with mentors to refine their ideas.

An overflow, energetic crowd of people in their teens to those at least their late 60’s packed the venue and wildly applauded each entrepreneur.

Judges were Steve Chin of Survature, Kevin Kragenbrink of Tech 2020, Doug Minter of the Knoxville Chamber, Amy Nolan of the Greater Knoxville Business Journal, and Stacey Patterson of the University of Tennessee.

There were a number of volunteers including seven lead mentors.  They were Mac Burtine, Shawn Carson, Eric Dunn, Mike Manning, Lee Martin, John Morris, and Doug Speight.

The Development Corporation of Knox County sponsors the event along with the Knoxville Chamber, Tech 2020 and the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC). The News Sentinel ran a great profile on Friday that discussed the entrepreneurs  competing in the event and their business concepts. Click here to access the story.

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