Four businesses owned by students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, were awarded a total of $30,000 in seed funds in the spring 2021 Boyd Venture Challenge. The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the university’s Haslam College of Business hosts the annual grant competition.
Start-up companies Arid Delivery Products, the Sleepy Owl Company, BusiCard, and Fluffy Friends for Children with Chronic Conditions were chosen as winners in the competition, which was conducted virtually at the end of spring semester. The awards ceremony was held in person on June 3.
Clay Franklin, a junior finance major from Franklin, Tennessee, founded Arid Delivery Products because of a fundamental disconnect he observed in the food delivery industry.
“As a Grubhub delivery driver, I know that on-demand food delivery apps are technology companies, not customer service companies,” Franklin said. “Consequently, consumers are forced to sacrifice quality for convenience. I knew there was a solution, so I am creating a product that keeps food hot and moisture-free throughout transit.”
The company was awarded $10,000 in start-up capital.
“Through funding, we will be able to create, iterate, and finalize our prototype. We can then manufacture at scale and begin changing the food delivery space for the better,” Franklin said. “The release of the Arid Delivery Bag will be an upheaval of the current on-demand food delivery process. It will transform the perception of food delivery quality and enhance customer enjoyment.”
“Early-stage funding is challenging, even when the entrepreneur has identified a real market need,” said Tom Graves, competition director and operations director for the Anderson Center. “The Boyd Venture Challenge creates an opportunity for our aspiring student entrepreneurs to overcome this hurdle and achieve the next important milestones in their business success.”
The Sleepy Owl Company also was awarded $10,000. The online publishing company was founded by Mekal Smith, a master’s student in accountancy–taxation from Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The Sleepy Owl Company was inspired by the untimely death of Smith’s best friend. “He loved writing short stories and manuscripts,” Smith said. “His stories were so detailed that I wished I could see a visual representation of what he wrote on his pages. The idea for the Sleepy Owl Company was created to allow authors access to a platform that would grant the author the ability to write a story or upload completed stories and attach digital media to the words of that story.”
Sleepy Owl gives the author or content creator the ability to attach digital media to the words of their story or instructions through a process called D.R.E.A.M.—Digital Recordings of Enjoyable Acquired Moments. “The award money will propel the Sleepy Owl company toward acquiring a patent for the D.R.E.A.M. concept and also will allow us to acquire Amazon web services to make the platform more innovative,” Smith said.
BusiCard, a user-friendly mobile application that eliminates the need for paper business cards and allows the user to store and sort business card information on their phone, was awarded $5,000. Jonathan Henry, a senior from Williamsburg, Virginia, with a major in finance and concentration in international business, and Tiho Nikolic, a junior from La Vergne, Tennessee, with a double major in finance and marketing with a concentration in international business, co-founded the app.
“We saw the perfect opportunity to enhance business networking, and we want to leave our mark on the professional world,” Nikolic said. “The Boyd Venture Challenge competition has allowed us to further expand on our business’s plans and strategies. The award money will help us move forward with bettering our product and getting it to consumers. BusiCard takes away the pains of managing physical business cards by offering a full-service contact management solution.”
Fluffy Friends for Children with Chronic Conditions also received $5,000. Founded by Allison Campbell, who was a pediatric chronic illness patient, the company is working toward a world in which all patients living with a lifelong illness feel safe and secure. Campbell, a senior from Knoxville, is majoring in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology.
“Up to 40 percent of chronically ill children develop some form of PTSD,” Campbell said. “I wanted to comfort children with a fluffy friend with a matching diagnosis so they would never feel they were fighting their battle alone.”
“Early-stage funding is challenging, even when the entrepreneur has identified a real market need. The Boyd Venture Challenge creates an opportunity for our aspiring student entrepreneurs to overcome this hurdle and achieve the next important milestones in their business success,” said Tom Graves, competition director and operations director for the Anderson Center.
Fluffy Friends for Children with Chronic Conditions is a registered nonprofit agency that provides hospitalized children with teddy bears holding a symbol of their matching diagnosis in a hidden pocket.
“This business strives to foster healthy psychological development in children who have experienced traumatic medical episodes and to serve this patient population that is often overlooked,” Campbell said. Fluffy Friends are intended to prevent medically induced post-traumatic stress disorder, provide an age-appropriate method of introducing children to their diagnosis, and circumvent the barriers caused by related stigmas that prevent such children from being comforted.
Graves continues to be impressed by the student-owned companies to which the judges award funds. “Their products are innovative and, in a classic entrepreneurial approach, were envisioned and developed to solve a need the student personally experienced,” Graves said. “Their passion in addressing the need and bringing the business to life is rewarding to see.”
The Boyd Venture Challenge is open to UT undergraduate and graduate students from any field of study that have a legally established corporation, LLC, or partnership with a federal tax ID. Since the fund’s inception in 2011, 44 student-owned companies have been awarded a total of $472,000 in seed capital to advance their businesses. The competition is made possible by a grant from the Boyd Foundation.