BY: JESSICA GUTMAN
After 48 intense hours of refining and developing their “big ideas” for the business start-up competition, a winner of What’s the Big Idea (WTBI) 48-Hour Launch was crowned from a group of six finalists.
On April 15, the finalists took the stage at Scruffy City Hall to present their final ideas to a panel of judges in a Shark Tank-style pitch event. This year included an impressive array of business concepts, but it was Michael Newton’s SWARM that took home the grand prize – up to $10,000 in startup reimbursement costs, office space, a spot in the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s CO.STARTERS program and other complimentary business services.
SWARM is a Gen-Z-focused marketing solutions company helping brands generate attention and exposure through leveraging the social status of micro-influencers to create largescale word-of-mouth-campaigns.
“This year’s group of finalists were really great,” said Jonathan Sexton, COO at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center. “As a whole, the ideas represented a unique cross-section of industry sectors, and even more importantly showcased a variety of companies that make our city great.”
Leading up to the finale, the finalists worked around the clock to make their ideas pitch-ready with the help of mentors and coaches from the community.
“The WTBI event has been the most educational business event I have ever attended,” said Michael Newton, founder of SWARM. “We had incredibly successful entrepreneurs, consultants, programmers and designers to help us develop our business and shed some light on the path ahead. I have a far better vision for my company than I did going into the weekend.”
He added, “This is only the beginning for me and my team. We are working on exponentially growing our business this year. WTBI has given us clarity on our goals and the necessary steps we must take to achieve them. I couldn’t be more excited to work on my business.”
This year’s event was presented by The Development Corporation of Knox County, the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and Harper Auto Square.
The five other “big ideas” competing against SWARM were:
• Electro-Active Technologies – A system that enables companies to convert their own waste into low-cost, renewable hydrogen
• Gear Up – Gives sports fans a chance to win tickets, autographs and apparel while giving back to the game they love
• Skylight – Like CarFax for your home, Skylight actively manages your most important investment, so you can enjoy living in it
• Note-ster – A user-friendly, engaging learning platform that middle and high school teachers and students use to view, share and store helpful tips, links and videos they find online by using the power of crowdsourcing and social networking to connect the global learning community
• Inky Boys Soap Company – Makes hand-crafted bar soap using recycled fats and all-natural essential oils that clean and nourish skin