Winners of the Paradigm Challenge gather with KAUL staff. Pictured from left to right: Terrance Carter, Knoxville Area Urban League; Britnie Davis, Britnie’s Balloon Bonanza; Brandon Hardin, Joyce Development; Joy Gaertner, Walking with Joy; and Phyllis Nichols, Knoxville Area Urban League.
BY: KAYLA SMITH
The inaugural Paradigm Challenge business pitch competition selected three local firms to share $30,000 in startup investment. The program was the idea of the Knoxville Area Urban League’s (KAUL) CO.STARTERS program and supported by the Knoxville Chamber’s Propel mentor/protégé program. The program selected a winner in three categories: technology, healthcare, and retail.
The Paradigm Challenge is a place-based, industry-specific ideation pitch competition that challenges entrepreneurs to solve business and economic growth challenges facing the East Knoxville business community.
Eight firms spent several months getting prepared with assistance from the Knoxville Business Support Network, Tennessee Small Business Development Center (TSBDC), Knoxville Chamber, and the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center.
Winner of the technology sector was Brandon Hardin, owner of Joyce Development with his “Command Glove” concept. Command Glove is a lightweight bluetooth device that allows runners to adjust music and phone controls with a fingertip.
Winner of the healthcare sector was Joy Gaertner, owner of Walking With Joy, a grief counseling firm. Joy states that her mission is to transform pain into peace through counseling. Gaertner is a certified grief recovery specialist who provides individual and group life coaching.
Winner of the retail sector was Britnie Davis, owner of Britnie’s Balloon Bonanza (B3), a retail balloon and décor store. The firm has been in business since May 2016 and has a rapidly-growing customer base.
“The Paradigm Challenge was a successful first for East Knoxville,” said Terrence Cart- er, director of economic and business development for the Knoxville Area Urban League. “The eight finalists did a great job pitching their firms. In my opinion, all eight of the firms deserve to have the full support of the community in launching their businesses. This pitch contest was a timely and crucial next step to launching business growth in the East Knoxville area. We had food and craft vendors from the downtown, local area, and three different countries demonstrating the power of diversity and practicing economic inclusion.” Doug Minter, director of small business development at the Knoxville Chamber, saw this event as a celebration of the power of teams who buy into the value proposition of economic inclusion.
“The entire small business ecosystem contributed to the success of this event,” said Minter. “I am proud of this teamwork and collaboration that exists in Knoxville. We are definitely ahead of many communities in this respect. To have mentors from SCORE, the TSBDC, and the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center all focused on East Knoxville shows that there is unity in the business support community to be a part of solutions and growth in this emerging part of town.”
In addition to the $10,000 investment, each firm will also be given a scholarship to participate in the Knoxville Chamber’s Propel mentor/protégé program, receive two years of mentoring and business development assistance, and a Chamber membership.
“The Paradigm Challenge allowed the Urban League to facilitate an economic development strategy to advocate, partner, and create opportunities for entrepreneurship in East Knoxville,” said Phyllis Nichols, president & CEO of KAUL. “This event was not just a financial boost to the three pitch winners, but for all of the participants who were mentored for their business success. The outpouring of community support demonstrates this area is ripe for new business.”
The five other firms who offered their pitches included: Tanika Harper owner of Harper’s Naturals, Skyler O’Dell, owner of True Home Assistance, Mitch Downey, owner of MedTalk, Jervis Brown, owner of Brown Bag Productions, and Lakesha Jones, owner of A Spot of Tea.