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Ryan Cunningham, Lia Winter, Sofia Tomov, and Erica Grant.

Three businesses owned by students at UT were awarded a total of $25,000 in the fall 2018 Boyd Venture Challenge. The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business hosted the seed-fund grant competition.

Start-up companies Qardian Labs, Winter Innovations, and Quantum Lock were selected from a group of six finalists. A panel of five judges determined the funding awards.

“We saw an extremely impressive group of companies pitch this semester,” said Tom Graves, operations director of the Anderson Center. “The compelling presentations and potential shown by all of the companies presented the judges with a significant challenge.”

Qardian Labs, founded by Sofia Tomov, was awarded $15,000. The medical software company offers artificial-intelligence-based solutions for evaluating heart disease risk.

Tomov created the company’s software package, HEARO (Heart Evaluation for Algorithmic Risk-Reduction and Optimization), to help doctors save lives and money by providing information to make more informed diagnoses in less time.

“Qardian’s proprietary technology uses a data analysis method known as deep learning to find relationships between medical metrics and output the probability that a patient has heart disease,” Tomov said.

A dual-enrollment sophomore from Knoxville, she is majoring in business analytics.

“Competing in the Boyd Venture Challenge gave me the opportunity to develop and refine a detailed plan for Qardian’s future growth,” said Tomov. “I am extremely grateful for this seed funding grant, which will help me grow my business.”

Tomov plans to use the awarded funding to reach potential customers. “The funds will allow Qardian to gain customers and build relationships by attending trade shows, promoting software products, and reaching large groups of doctors,” she said.

Winter Innovations, a product development company, was awarded $5,000. Lia Winter founded the company, designing the business’s first innovation, EasyWhip, a two-part detachable needle for use in orthopedic reconstruction surgeries.

“This proprietary product will allow surgeons to stitch a tendon graft faster and more accurately during surgery compared to the current practices,” Winter said.

Winter, a native of Pittsburgh, is a dual MS–MBA candidate studying biomedical engineering and business administration in the Tickle College of Engineering and the Haslam College of Business.

Winter pitched the business with the company’s business manager, Ryan Cunningham. Cunningham, of Collierville, Tennessee, is a senior supply chain management major with minors in entrepreneurship and Spanish.

“Competing in the Boyd Venture Challenge helped us to work through our business plan to perfect it,” Cunningham said. “The funds awarded will be used to begin batch manufacturing in order to get our product in the hands of surgeons and initiate testing.”

Quantum Lock, a company founded by graduate student Erica Grant, was awarded $5,000. Grant designed the company’s prototype to utilize a quantum property found in light to increase the security of smart locks.

“Many people are upgrading to smart locks because they offer the convenience of unlocking the door with a smartphone app and give the illusion of high-tech security,” said Grant. “Unfortunately, most smart locks can be less secure than traditional locks.”

Grant, from Richmond, Virginia, is a doctoral candidate studying quantum computing in the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education.

“I gained valuable pitch experience and received insightful feedback from the judges during the Boyd Venture Challenge,” Grant said. “I’m able to use the awarded funding to develop the second-generation prototype, which I plan to showcase to investors.”

The Boyd Venture Challenge is made possible by the generosity of Randy Boyd, interim president of the University of Tennessee System and founder and executive chair of Radio Systems Corporation, makers of PetSafe, Invisible Fence, and SportDog brands.

Held each fall and spring semester, the Boyd Venture Challenge is open to UT undergraduate and graduate students from any field of study. An outside panel of judges from the business community decides the funding awards. Since the fund’s inception in 2011, 36 student-owned companies have been awarded a total of $387,000 in seed capital to advance their businesses.


Carrie McCamey (865-974-9964,