'Squish Water Bottles' Wins Vol Court
Hard plastic or metal water bottles may be a thing of the past if Zach Linn, a senior majoring in retailing at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has his way. Linn's business idea of a squishable water bottle was the winner of the spring 2011 Vol Court pitch competition. Linn won $500 to invest in his business, Squish Bottles. A second-place prize of $250 was awarded to a team that developed a new online coupon site that connects the support of local businesses to local fundraising causes.
Vol Court is a series of workshops presented by the College of Business Administration's Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to help people develop new business ideas. The workshops address entrepreneurial challenges such as setting up a business, determining the market and the customer, understanding financials, and learning how to pitch the idea to potential investors.
Linn spotted a problem in the market and developed a solution for it.
"I saw students in class drinking out of their water bottles, but then they had to hassle with a big container when it was empty. It just became a waste of space. I thought that it could be done better and then realized a bottle made of a flexible and resilient material would be able to squish into your bag," he said.
The second-place Funds4.Us team, consisting of former UT Knoxville students Kelly Burke and Jeff Nichols, along with Jeff's daughter, Rebecca, saw an opportunity for a more convenient and profitable way to accomplish local fundraising efforts. Kelly and Jeff have been creating technology-based, media solutions since working together at Jewelry Television in Knoxville. Jeff returned to UT Knoxville in 2006 to complete his Ph.D. in mathematics and now works at Oak Ridge National Laboratory as a computational scientist in bioenergy and climate research. They have continued to collaborate on ideas and started attending the Vol Court seminars last fall to learn how to turn their ideas into reality.
"That's really what Vol Court is all about," said Joy Fisher, Vol Court managing director. "The intent of Vol Court is to help people gain entrepreneurial skills and develop a network that will help them innovate and create new businesses. This was our third session of Vol Court, and it was our most heavily attended series. We saw collaboration among students, faculty, staff and the public, all of whom had different skill sets and experiences that combined to make powerful ideas."
Vol Court is offered every fall and spring semester to all undergraduates on the UT Knoxville campus.