Graves Business Plan Competition Awards Funds To 6 UT Student Start-Ups
Thursday, May 9, 2019
Student businesses SLOT, Andy’s Beekeeping, and JC Sweets were awarded prize money to advance their business ideas in the Graves Business Plan Competition
Six UT student start-up businesses were awarded cash prizes in the Graves Business Plan Competition. The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business hosted the 12th annual entrepreneurial pitch contest.
Andy’s Beekeeping LLC and Rolling Storage LLC took home top prizes of $5,000 each in the lifestyle business and high-growth business categories. SLOT LLC and BackDoor won second place and $3,000 each, and JC Sweets and Ready4Rescue each won third place and $2,000.
“We saw an impressive group of business ideas this year and look forward to seeing these plans move forward,” said Tom Graves, operations director for the Anderson Center.
“The Graves Business Plan Competition offers not only prize money to help start these businesses, but students also receive feedback from the judges, which is often valuable during this early stage.”
Andy’s Beekeeping LLC, which placed first in the lifestyle business category, produces all-natural honey and beeswax products. The honey ranges in variety from sourwood to jalapeno clover, while the beeswax products include lip balms and salves in an assortment of scents. The company sells the products locally at festivals in addition to wholesale and online sales.
Andrew Swafford, a senior majoring in plant sciences with a concentration in biotechnology in UT’s Herbert College of Agriculture, founded the business in his hometown of Pikeville, Tn.
Mr. Swafford began beekeeping in 2012 as part of a project with the National FFA Organization.
“When I started making more honey than my family could consume, I began selling products,” said Mr. Swafford. “After seeing profit from those initial sales, I decided to create an organized business.”
The company experienced an unexpected loss earlier this year during flooding that impacted much of East Tennessee.
“The award money will help me replace the bee colonies I lost during the flooding,” said Mr. Swafford. “Participating in the Graves Business Plan Competition helped me organize my thoughts and create a more focused plan of action moving forward.”
Rolling Storage LLC, founded by sophomore Kaleb Winders, won first place in the high-growth business category. The company provides convenient and secure storage solutions for events.
Mr. Winders, from Hendersonville, Tennessee, is majoring in business management with a minor in entrepreneurship in the Haslam College of Business.
“I saw a great need within the market for my service,” said Mr. Winders. “My girlfriend and I attended a game, and she couldn’t bring her purse into the venue. I ran it back to the hotel and missed half of the game. I’ve experienced this issue from the attendee side and event staff side, and my company offers a solution for both groups.”
Mr. Winders’s business will provide mobile storage units for event attendees to rent during events.
“I plan to begin manufacturing my trailers to service large events by fall 2019,” said Mr. Winders. “The award money from this competition enables me to do this without giving up equity or being in debt this early in my company’s development.”
Second place in the lifestyle business category went to SLOT LLC, a digital solution for booking service appointments.
The company was founded by two seniors in the Haslam College of Business. Dustin Paul, from Alcoa, Tn. is a finance major. Colby Strafuss, from Collierville is majoring in business analytics.
“Customers know their schedules and businesses know when they are available, but there isn’t a company that allows time to be in the initial search for a service,” said Mr. Paul. “We felt this presented an opportunity to change the way service businesses and customers interact.”
SLOT’s online solution allows customers to search and schedule appointments not only by service type but also by time slots available to fit the customer’s schedule.
The company officially launched in April and plans to invest the competition winnings in a marketing plan to attract early adopters.
BackDoor, a smartphone application developed to help locate lost pets, took second place in the high-growth business category.
A team of three seniors in UT’s Tickle College of Engineering founded the company—Makenzie Swicegood, from Knoxville, majoring in electrical engineering; Alex Weber, an electrical engineering major and entrepreneurship minor from Lynnville, Tn.; and Brad Bennett, a chemical engineering major from Nashville.
“I have always had a passion for helping animals,” said Ms. Swicegood. “Three years ago, I started noticing that the most common problem in reuniting lost pets with their families is the hassle associated with taking a stray pet to a shelter.”
BackDoor aims to ease this process by combining existing pet microchips with a social-media-style platform, providing smartphone users with the ability to scan and connect lost pets with their owners.
“This Graves Business Plan Competition highlighted how crucial complementary skill sets are in developing a business plan and preparing a concept for effective market execution,” said Ms. Swicegood. “With our competition winnings, we can pursue intellectual property protection and further app development.”
JC Sweets, founded by Jalan Cooper, won third place in the lifestyle category. Ms. Cooper, from Memphis, is a first-year retail, hospitality and tourism management major in the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences. Her company plans to provide traditional homemade-style confections in the Knoxville area.
“I’ve always dreamed of owning my own bakery,” said Ms. Cooper. “This experience has helped show me the steps that I will need to follow to become a successful entrepreneur.”
Ms. Cooper plans to use the competition winnings to invest in ingredients and tools for the company’s launch in fall 2019.
Third place in the high-growth category was awarded to Ready4Rescue, a nonprofit business founded by Regan Sheen. The business plans to work with animal shelters to improve adoption rates by providing low- or no-cost behavioral training for dogs.
Ms. Sheen, from Hendersonville, Tennessee, is a senior marketing major in the Haslam College of Business. She created the business after adopting a dog and seeking professional dog training.
“I wanted to help my dog adapt into her new lifestyle so that we would bond. I found that dog training is very expensive, so I formed a low-cost training idea,” said Ms. Sheen.
Ms. Sheen plans to use the prize money to pursue professional trainer certification after she graduates this month.
Finalists in the two-round pitch competition were supported by student financial advisors. These students worked with the companies, providing financial consulting prior to the final round of competition.
“One of my favorite things about the student financial advisor program is being able to put my accounting skills into practice while helping another student further their business,” said Olivia Davis, a senior accounting major from Franklin, Tn. “I love teaching others accounting, so I enjoy having the opportunity to help student entrepreneurs understand the books for their company.”
Including Ms. Davis, six accounting and finance students in the Haslam College of Business received student financial advisor awards—Logan Sizemore, a senior accounting major from Johnson City, Tn.; Matt Williams, a junior finance major from Knoxville; Adil Abbas Naqvi, a junior finance major from Germantown, Tn.; Noah Wessel, a junior finance major from Hendersonville, Tn.; and John Pettit, a senior finance major from Brentwood, Tn.
The Graves Business Plan Competition is open to UT undergraduate students from any field of study. An outside panel of judges from the business community select the winners. Since the competition’s inception in 2008, it has awarded $232,000 to 73 student start-up businesses.