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As part of the ESE and DSE curricula, students participate in knowledge breadth coursework and activities. Bredesen Center student startup companies and success in various pitch competitions have been a result of various ESE/DSE curriculum projects!


Interested in Entrepreneurship? Curious about what the business side of science technology looks like? ESE 520 is a fall semester introduction to entrepreneurship by giving students hands-on experience. This course provides students with the opportunity to work in a team setting assisting a local startup company with many of their business needs. Students are presented with a scope of work created by the startup company that outlines a project of business needs. Some examples include writing business plans, extensive market research, customer discovery, and business presentation practice. Each project is distinct and different from the others and teams have the flexibility to meet and study on accommodating schedules.

The nature of entrepreneurship is flexible and dynamic. This course reflects some of that excitement and changeability to allow students to envision what it would look like to start their own companies. This course is also a great opportunity to get tied into the entrepreneurial community in Knoxville and make some great business connections!

For students who decide that the excitement and opportunity of entrepreneurship is for them, we recommend the spring semester ESE 530 course. This class allows students to dive further into discovering what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Students find a technology on their own that they want to try to commercialize. They then spend the semester learning about the Business Model Canvas – a more dynamic version of the dated and slow Business Plan. By reaching out to potential customers and talking to companies in the technology space, students gain a clearer idea of how customers respond to their technologies.

Guest lectures and a final pitch competition give students additional tools to move their idea and technology forward.



Tony Bova showcases highly elastic lignin-based rubber materials.

The Bredesen Center is home to three Vol Court Pitch Competition winning teams:

  • 2016 Vol Court Pitch Competition winners – Jeff Beegle and Tony Bova: Grow Bioplastics
  • 2015 Vol Court Pitch Competition winners – Adeola Adediaran, Christine Ajinjeru, Eva Mutunga, and Akinola Oyedele: TechSmarrt
  • 2014 Vol Court Pitch Competition winners – Jeff Beegle, Tony Bova, Robbie Brese, Missy Showers: Grow Bioplastics
  • 2012 Vol Court Pitch Competition winner – Chuck Chin: Video Game Idea (see Neural Energy Games llc below)

Eva Mutunga, Adeola Adediran, Christine Ajinjeru represent TechSmarrt as 2015 Vol Court winners.


Students also participate in a variety of other competitions to pitch their ideas to a broad audience of potential customers and investors. These types of experiences often lead to the creation of student startup companies and lead to expanded research in various technologies.


lepore_andrew_500x700Andrew Lepore pitched his idea to convert biomass into bio-oil to a panel of industry experts and top researchers in ORNL’s Next Big Idea competition and was awarded $50K toward his project.


Andrew Lepore was one of three winners in ORNL’s 2014 Next Big Idea Competition.









Bredesen Center Student Companies



Grow Bioplastics student founders Tony Bova and Jeff Beegle. Photo credit: Adam Brimer / University of Tennessee.

Grow Bioplastics: Recently featured in the Tennessee Alumnus Magazine, Tony Bova and Jeff Beegle highlight the research and business opportunities with Grow Bioplastics.

At Grow Bioplastics, we dream, design, and deliver biodegradable plastics made from plants and agricultural waste materials. We’re currently focusing on replacing the millions of tons of oil-based plastic mulch films used each year in farming with our biodegradable materials made from lignin, a natural polymer found in all trees and grasses and the primary waste product of paper mills and biofuel refineries.

Notable Achievements:

  • 2014 Fall Vol Court – First Place
  • 2016 KEC/KCC What’s the Big Idea 48 Hour Launch – Finalist
  • 2016 Spring Vol Court – First Place
  • 2016 Rice Business Plan Competition – Challenge Round Winner
  • 2016 Spring Boyd Venture Challenge – First Place
  • 2016 Charlotte Venture Challenge – New Energy & High Tech Category Winner
  • 2016 Charlotte Venture Challenge – Grand Prize
  • 2016 LaunchTN University Venture Challenge – Commercializable Tech Category Winner
  • 2016 Megawatt Ventures Challenge – Runner Up
  • 2016 DOE Cleantech University Prize – Finalist
  • 2016 ACS Green Chem & Eng Conference Green Business Plan Competition – First Place
  • 2016 Think Beyond Plastics Innovation Challenge – Most Innovative Emerging Business

Tony Bova and business partner Jeff Beegle pose for photos in Oak Ridge Friday, July 15, 2016. Bova and Beegle founded Grow Bioplastics, a company specializing in biodegradable plastic sheets used in landscaping and agriculture. (Adam Brimer / University of Tennessee)

Tony Bova and business partner Jeff Beegle pose for photos in Oak Ridge Friday, July 15, 2016. Bova and Beegle founded Grow Bioplastics, a company specializing in biodegradable plastic sheets used in landscaping and agriculture. (Adam Brimer / University of Tennessee)


Nano Elements Source, LLC is producing semiconducting nanoparticles at orders of magnitude less cost than what is currently on the market. By using our licensed fermentation technology, these particles are produced economically with very little environmental impact. We are looking at applications in electronics and lighting for more energy efficient options for products like televisions and lightbulbs.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory has featured Nano Elements Source, LLC and the founders, Patrick Caveney and Beth Conerty, in a cover article in the ORNL Review.


Patrick Caveney accepting check from Pitches and Pints for Nano Elements Source











Notable Achievements:



Neural Energy Games llc is an educational video game company focused on developing engaging STEM-based games for students from elementary to college classrooms.













Rob Moseley pitches SimPath at the 2015 Knoxville Startup Day Competition. Photo courtesy of Knoxville Startup Day.

Rob Moseley pitches SimPath at the 2015 Knoxville Startup Day Competition. Photo courtesy of Knoxville Startup Day.

SimPath provides a quick, low-cost DNA assembly solution for synthetic biologists in the bio-based manufacturing industry. Advancements in DNA synthesis have lead to a revolution in how we manufacture chemicals and materials, but the bio-based manufacturing industry still hasn’t reached its potential due to inefficiencies in DNA assembly.  These inefficiencies result in high research costs and limit how innovative synthetic biologists can be in their research.

At SimPath, we combine our DNA assembly technology with high-tech, web-based DNA design tools and top-of-the-line DNA synthesis to offer synthetic biologists a cheaper, quicker alternative to today’s DNA assembly options.

Notable Achievements:

  • 2017 ORNL Phase 2 TIP Grant Winner – $250,000
  • 2016 Bredesen Center Pitch Competition Winner
  • 2016 Fall Boyd Venture Challenge Winner
  • 2016 LifeScienceTN Venture Match – Runner Up



Techsmarrt is a software for visualizing complex materials. Our software uses a hierarchical decomposition algorithm to help researchers understand the structure-property relationship of these materials. This is key in the engineering of existing materials and the discovery of new ones. There are options of doing this already, but they could take weeks to run or require enormous supercomputers. Our software increases research efficiency and decreases costs by cutting down the time to analyze materials from thousands of computing hours to mere minutes. Better yet, our software can travel with researchers and be used on laptops.


Eva Mutunga and Akinola Oyedele represent TechSmarrt in the Tennessee Venture Challenge. Photo courtesy of TVC.