Grow Bioplastics, a startup company founded by UT students, beat fourteen competitors to win the spring 2016 Vol Court Pitch Competition hosted by UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
The Grow Bioplastics team includes Tony Bova and Jeff Beegle, both doctoral candidates with UT’s Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education. The students created a biodegradable alternative to the plastic mulch film currently used in agricultural applications.
They developed the cost-effective and ecofriendly product based on a patent through Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Black plastic sheeting is used on many farms to retain ground moisture and temperature and keep unwanted weeds out of the fields. It’s effective, but at the end of the growing season the plastic must be removed and disposed of, which creates a significant cost for the farm.
To solve this problem, the team created sheets of biodegradable mulch film made of lignin, a natural waste product of the paper industry. This allows farmers to till the film into the ground at the end of the season, saving them the expense of removing it, and it keeps oil-based plastic products out of landfills.
Grow Bioplastics is the first repeat winner of the Vol Court Pitch Competition. They first won in fall 2014 with a separate product line that has since been expanded.
The team won $1,500 provided by Cirruspath, the presenting sponsor of the competition. The team will also receive one year of free office space in the UT Research Foundation Business Incubator, consulting services courtesy of Pershing Yoakley & Associates, and legal advice from Morehous Legal Group.
Second place went to Kevin White and Gameday Weekenders, a startup providing UT fans with travel accommodations for away athletic events. White, a senior majoring in business analytics, won $1,000 provided by Cirruspath, as well as six months of free office space in UT’s Research Foundation Business Incubator, consulting services from Pershing Yoakley & Associates, and legal advice from Morehous Legal Group.
Third place went to mooch, an app that allows individuals to save money by borrowing things they need and make money by lending things they don’t. The mooch founders are Jared Smith and Kyle Bashour, both seniors majoring in computer science, and Kaleigh Veca, a junior graphic design major. The team was awarded $500 provided by Launch Tennessee.
“The competition was very stiff for Vol Court this semester,” said Tom Graves, director of operations for the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “We had more teams competing than ever before, and as a whole, this group of fifteen teams was probably the most prepared group we’ve ever had.
“It was very evident they had paid attention to this semester’s speakers and put a lot of effort into refining their elevator pitches. Because of that, there was considerable debate when it came time for the judges to select the winners.”
The competition was the final event of the spring 2016 Vol Court Speaker Series. Prior to the competition, teams attended five entrepreneurial lectures covering topics such as intellectual property, basic financial statements, and opportunity identification.
Vol Court is a free event hosted by the Anderson Center each fall and spring semester. It is open to UT students, faculty and staff, as well as members of the local community. The competition is made possible through sponsorship from Cirruspath, UT Research Foundation, Launch Tennessee, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, and Morehous Legal Group.
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