Student entrepreneurs drawing from their own experiences—ranging from rodeo riding to living with disabilities—have been awarded cash prizes for their start-up businesses in the fall 2019 Graves Business Plan Competition.
The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in UT’s Haslam College of Business hosted the entrepreneurial pitch contest in late November.
Slide & Ride and AltFair took home top prizes of $5,000 each in the lifestyle business and growth business categories. Coonhound Camping and Yeat won second place and $3,000 each, and Cayten + Co and Abled Magazine each won third place and $2,000.
“This was one of the most competitive groups we’ve seen,” said Tom Graves, operations director for the Anderson Center. “The quality of the ideas and the presentations impressed the judging panel, and we’re pleased to continue working with these early-stage startups as they move forward.”
Slide & Ride
Slide & Ride, a safety device for rodeo riders, placed first in the lifestyle business category.
Joshua Friday, a senior supply chain management major in the Haslam College of Business, designed the device after sustaining serious injuries while participating in rough-stock riding.
“My hand was caught up in my rope, and I was trampled by the bull,” said Friday. “Unfortunately, this is all too common for rough-stock riders.”
Originally from Nashville, Friday has participated in amateur rodeos in Wyoming and Tennessee since his sophomore year in college and created the first prototype of Slide & Ride while recovering from his injuries. The device provides a safety point that can break away if a rider becomes hung up and unable to free himself.
“Adding another level of control in a risky activity will prevent injury and hopefully help people continue to participate in this growing sport,” said Friday.
Friday plans to use his winnings to secure intellectual property protection and work with designers to enhance his current prototype.
“Winning the Graves Business Plan Competition means I can pursue this idea,” said Friday. “It makes sense in my head, but to hear other people say it’s a good idea and worth continuing to pursue is validating.”
Created by a group of three juniors in the Haslam College of Business, AltFair won first place in the growth business category. The company’s software aims to streamline the exchange of data between students and companies during career fairs.
Wilson Garrett, a finance major from Goodlettsville, Tennessee, along with supply chain management majors Hugh Gentry from Franklin, Tennessee, and Jace Smith from Winchester, Tennessee, founded the company.
“Our goal is to improve the career fair experience for companies and those attending these fairs by streamlining the process of data transfer between these parties,” said Garrett. “AltFair will make paper resumes obsolete while adding value to students, universities, and companies around the country.”
Feedback from competition judges proved valuable for the company as it advanced through the competition.
“The Graves Business Plan Competition forced us to look even harder at all aspects of our company and make sure that no one knows more about what we are trying to do in this market than us,” said Garrett.
The team plans to use its winnings to begin software development, including an integrated mobile application, a website, and cloud storage.
Second place in the lifestyle business category went to Coonhound Camping. The company provides full-service camping setups in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surrounding areas.
“Our services allow customers to enjoy camping without the hassle of purchasing, setting up, and tearing down gear,” said one of the company’s owners, Dalton Maddox of Knoxville, a senior in supply chain management.
The company’s other owners are Haslam College of Business seniors Jeremy Piper, a supply chain management major from Clarkston, Michigan, and Christopher Mikulec, an accounting major from Orchard Park, New York, and College of Arts and Sciences senior Michael Richards, a geography major from Cross Plains, Tennessee.
“We’re excited to use the award money to expand Coonhound Camping’s visibility in the region,” said Piper. “Our brand and company are ready for growth, and this award will give us a boost.”
Yeat, a new type of food delivery service, won second place in the growth category.
Team members Frank Gao and Ashley Chen, senior industrial engineering majors in the Tickle College of Engineering, and Colton Ku, an MBA candidate in the Haslam College of Business, presented the startup. Gao is from Tazewell, Tennessee, Chen is from Franklin, Tennessee, and Ku hails from Burbank, California.
“Yeat was born out of the recognition that current food delivery services are simply too expensive,” said Chen. “We knew that we could create a better system in which all parties benefit.”
Yeat plans to use the awarded funds to develop their application and will seek UT community members to test its platform.
“We are developing the most streamlined and easy-to-use application possible,” said Chen. “We want our users to have a hassle-free and positive experience ordering through Yeat.”
Cayten + Co
Founded by Mary Cayten Brakefield, Cayten + Co. won third place in the lifestyle category.
Brakefield, from Nashville, is a senior retail and consumer sciences major in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. Her company plans to create a line of adaptive clothing for people with disabilities.
“I have loved fashion my whole life, but, in particular, I’ve always been intrigued by clothing as a vessel for identity expression, confidence, and inclusion,” said Brakefield. “The idea for an adaptive fashion line started with an eye-opening conversation a few years ago, and then got even more personal after I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome last spring. It’s just become more and more clear that there is a massive hole in the fashion industry, and I’ve developed a passion for filling it.”
Brakefield plans to use the award to test her designs with customers and take steps toward full-scale production.
“Preparing for and receiving feedback from the pitches was monumental in helping focus my ideas and really solidify the type of company I want to create,” said Brakefield.
Third place in the growth category was awarded to Abled Magazine, a digital publication celebrating and supporting people with disabilities.
Lindsey NeSmith, a senior journalism and electronic media major in the College of Communication and Information, founded the company along with her brother, Will NeSmith, a sophomore accounting major in the Haslam College of Business. Both are from Franklin, Tennessee.
“When Will became disabled at age 12, we got a close-up view at how little non-medical information exists about disabilities and how many false perceptions exist about what people with disabilities are able to do,” said Lindsey. “When finding some great information changed Will’s life, we both became passionate about using our resources to advocate for people with disabilities and put positive information out there.”
The team plans to use the awarded funds to further develop the company’s website and create content.
“There are literally millions of people with disabilities who have great things to say, and we want them to share their information on our platform,” said Lindsey.
More about the competition
Finalists in the two-round pitch competition were supported by student financial advisors. These students worked with the companies, providing financial consulting before the final round of competition.
“I enjoyed getting to work with potential start-ups,” said Alex Owens, a senior finance major from Knoxville. “Their passion about their business made the process fun while also providing my team and me with a real-world experience that many start-ups go through every day.”
Including Owens, five accounting and finance students in the Haslam College of Business received student financial advisor awards—Brian Greene, a senior accounting major from Columbia, Tennessee; Adil Abbas Naqvi, a senior finance major from Germantown, Tennessee; Noah Wessel, a senior finance major from Hendersonville, Tennessee; and London Evans, a finance graduate and sports management master’s degree candidate from Memphis.
The Graves Business Plan Competition is open to UT students enrolled in undergraduate and master’s degree programs in any field of study. An outside panel of judges from the business community selects the winners. Since the competition’s inception in 2008, it has awarded $252,000 to 78 student start-up businesses.
Carrie McCamey (865-974-9964, email@example.com)