Business Competition Offers Unique Experience for Undergraduate Students


Tom GravesThis spring, the second annual Business Plan Competition brought students and industry professionals together for an unmatched, hands-on lesson in the art of entrepreneurship. The competition, organized and led by College of Business Administration (CBA) faculty member Tom Graves, was open to all undergraduate students at UT Knoxville.

This year’s competition was divided into two categories, lifestyle and growth. Lifestyle companies, as defined for this competition, were businesses that intend to remain in the local community, and growth businesses were those with expectations of expansion into chains or franchises. This was the first year that the categories were segmented, which, according to Graves, allowed for a more ‘apples-to-apples’ comparison of the students’ business plans.

“We wanted to expand the competition this year to provide unique opportunities for all of the students interested in entrepreneurship,” said Graves. “There is an enormous interest from our undergraduate students in enterprise management, and this competition allowed for a real-world critique of their plans and ideas.”

Competiton participantsGraves offered two sessions for students to receive training in the practice of writing business plans, largely in an effort to assist students from other colleges within the university who may have promising ideas but a lack of business education. The sessions were new (not offered during last year’s competition) and proved to be extremely successful. The sessions paid off for many of the competition’s contestants; the winner of the growth category attended both sessions.

Competition participantsThere were 23 initial submissions into the competition, fewer than last year due to more rigorous requirements for the competitors. From the original 23 submissions, 20 groups were chosen by the judging panel (made up of alumni and friends of the college) and invited to present their plans to the panel within a fast-moving, 15-minute presentation utilizing visual aids. The judges chose 10 of the 20 presentations to move forward in the competition (coincidentally, half were from each category of the competition) and invited them back to a second presentation opportunity, this time without the support of visual aids but with the added pressure of a 15-minute Q&A session with the judges. 

While the experience proved to be intense for the competing students, Graves assures there was a healthy dose of positive feedback shared by the panel, successful business leaders whose organizations are worth over $1 billion. The panel included

  • CBA alumnus Randy Boyd (founder and CEO of Radio Systems)

  • CBA alumnus Brad Maynard (former owner and CEO of Time Controls Inc.)

  • CBA alumnus Jim Atchley (executive vice president of First Tennessee Bank)

  • UT College of Engineering alumnus Pete Landry (entrepreneur)

  • UT College of Law alumnus Bill Jenkins (retired multi-national corporate executive and consultant)

  • Mark Isom (founder and CEO of Premiere Building Maintenance Corporation)

  • Gus Zacharias (CEO of Tennessee Marble Company)

  • John Jansheski (CEO and chief innovation office of DenTek Dental Care, Inc)

Winners were chosen from among the remaining 10 groups, with monetary prizes going to the top three finishers in each category. Prize money came from private support of the competition; however, there currently is a search underway for the support to fund the project for next year. 

The prizes awarded to these students will go toward various uses from college tuition to seed money to build upon the business plans created as part of the competition. 

The winners of the 2009 Business Plan Competition are:

Lifestyle Category

(1st place) Curran Doody
(2nd place) Dan Fielden
(3rd place) Chris Kerr
Wes Spiro
Mark Scales

Growth Category

(1st place) Jason Witamyer
(2nd place) Travis Truett
                   Jarad Houghton
                   Brian Trautschold
(3rd place) Zach Linn

While these six of the final 10 teams received monetary awards, those who did not place in the top three of their category certainly did not walk away empty-handed, noted Graves. Many of the judges saw promise in those business plans and invited the students to meet with them to discuss the development of their ideas into more complete business plans. All of the teams that made it to the final cut have the promise of bright futures. “Of the seven finalists last year,” said Graves, “three already have gone on to build businesses. It is the true spirit of entrepreneurship at work.”

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