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Student Edition Spotlight: Clu Technologies, Fathom, Greenleaf Solutions, Swarm, Zeno Power Systems

36|86: Student Edition, part of 36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival, is an opportunity for student entrepreneurs to network and learn about what is happening in the startup world. 13 startups will pitch for a total of $60k on Aug. 28. RSVP to attend.

Over the next two weeks, we will feature the finalists for 36|86: Student Edition. At the close of the series, YOU can vote for your favorite company. The crowd favorite will be announced at 36|86: Student Edition and awarded a $5,000 cash prize to invest in their business! Voting will open 8/4 and close 8/24.

Finalists Spotlight:

Clu Technologies (Rhodes College)

Clu Technology is a B2B software that allows shoppers to find information about merchandise on an in-store touchscreen device easily. They take the pressure off sales associates by enabling customers to access product and inventory information directly, order out of stock merchandise, sign up for rewards, and even get recommendations for add-on items. 
Team: Cinthya Bolanos, CEO/Founder, Rhodes College; Luke Mansfield CTO/Co-founder, Rhodes College; Sydnee Haley Co-founder/COO, Rhodes College; Kylee Richard, CTO, Sewanee

Fathom (Vanderbilt University)

Fathom invests in youth-led innovation for local economic and community development. Their MVP, Change Agents, offers a 21st-century learning curriculum, incubator and mobile learning platform for young people to develop social venture solutions to challenges in their communities. Fathom believes that by equipping young people with tools for transformative change, they can realize the next generation of leaders for a more equitable and sustainable future for all.
Team: Julie Dunlap, Chief Impact Officer, Vanderbilt University, 2nd year Masters; Joseph Adeola, CEO; Jean Castrillo, Visual Design; Omari Byrd, Social Media Manager

What inspired your company?

My co-founder and I were inspired to launch Fathom to solve what we believe is the most pressing problem of our generation– the ability to create meaningful careers while doing the things we love and earning a livable wage and making positive impact in the world. There’s a quote by Susan Davis which we always return to as our driving inspiration and motivation, “Work is not only a means of survival and meeting basic livelihood requirements. It is also a means of self expression, self actualization and a vehicle for meaningful engagement in one’s community.” We started Fathom with a mission to provide young people with tools to reimagine the possibilities for 21st century education, workforce and community transformation.

What’s your secret sauce?

Since 2016, we have worked with and listened closely to young people, educators and community stakeholders across Tennessee to develop our MVP, Change Agents. Change Agents is a 21st Century learning curriculum and mobile learning platform for young people to develop personalized blueprints to leverage entrepreneurial problem-solving for community change. From our mission to our vision to the products and services we build and offer, we are a for the youth, by the youth organization. We delicately balance a culture that is both relatable and credible, rebellious and responsible, revolutionary yet grounded in addressing the problems of today for a better tomorrow. We are flexible in our approach and never assume we know the right solution for any community or group of young people, yet we remain diligently dedicated to tackling the problems of education reform and workforce readiness and are sternly committed to our mission for youth-led innovation and community change.

What is the best and worst thing about being a student founder?

Last year, I returned to school for my Masters in Education with a concentration in Community Development and Action. Recognizing the importance of education and youth development in our start-up and MVP, I returned to Vanderbilt to become an expert in my field and to gain the support needed to evaluate and scale Change Agents to schools across Nashville and beyond. The best thing about being a student founder at an amazing institution like Vanderbilt is the wide variety of resources through on-campus organizations like the Turner Family Center and the Wond’ry which has helped me to build my network, find mentors, develop my leadership and business skills, and even recruit fellow students across campus to work as Change Agents instructors. My cross-disciplinary program allows me to take a wide variety of classes from business to urban education to action research which complement by role in Fathom and our goals with Change Agents.

The most challenging part of being a student founder is balancing my schedule and school work with the demands of running a startup. There come times when the workload and deadlines clash, and it can be overwhelming to keep up with emails, clients and product development while writing papers, conducting research and attending lectures. While I find I often have little free time, I am honestly happy and very grateful to have the amazing opportunity to continue my own learning and development while laying the pathway for the next generation to do the same.

Where do you see your company in 5 years?

Through our mobile learning platform, we aim to scale Change Agents to schools across the nation, providing a platform and methodology to prepare the next generation to become leaders and innovators for more equitable and sustainable communities. In the next year we aim to scale across the Nashville public school district, followed by Memphis and followed by statewide implementation in high schools and community colleges. In 5 years, we aim to be a nationwide platform being licensed by school districts across the nation who are vested to reimagining and redesigning relevant and meaningful education to address the challenges of the 21st century. Through a collective impact approach, we aim to onboard important stakeholders across the private and public sector as a network of resources and mentors for youth-led community and workforce transformation.

Greenleaf Solutions (University of Tennessee, Knoxville)

Greenleaf Solutions produces wholesale specialty greens and garnishes for restaurants. They also design and utilize high-tech hydroponics systems for use in our enterprise and non-profit implementation for small farmers in developing countries.
Team: Colin Brice, Owner, Research Assistant at University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Kristin Churchill, Financial Advisor, Master’s Student 1st year at University of Tennessee, Knoxville

What inspired your company?

It began at a non-profit, Guatemalan peace center, where I managed a large USAID farm working with Save the Children. There, I renovated growth systems, educated farmers, and implemented new projects to combat rampant nutritional deficiency. We ultimately created a vertical hydroponic system for microgreens, a nutrient-dense source of many essential nutrients.

The system allowed a two- pound weekly harvest schedule for sale in the nearby restaurant to be served to the center’s guests. The project resulted in a weekly profit for the farm and an improvement in the nutritional quality of food served to hundreds. This was the first time I realized the full potential of health-targeted agricultural technology. I was immediately compelled to start growing for restaurants in Knoxville and continuing to design productive hydroponic systems. Our team has grown, and we have become a sole-supplier for twelve local restaurants. We expanded our vision and are now working on system installation agreements with several clinics and plan to have our newest hydroponic system fully-installed in the University of Tennessee, Knoxville Visitor’s Center by this fall.

What’s your secret sauce?

Our secret sauce is our drive to please our customers. We get a tremendous sense of satisfaction knowing we provide restaurants the healthiest, freshest, and most resource-efficient products available. We also thrive on the fact that what our products are designed to make people healthier and reconnect consumers with their food system. We don’t isolate ourselves to the wholesale produce market. Instead, we work bringing farm to table by shortening the supply-chain and, in some cases, bring the farm literally into the restaurant. We envision a food system that exists in transparency and serves to improve the health of its people.

What is the best and worst thing about being a student founder?

The best thing is the ability to look back and know that all the work we did was to accomplish a mission. When you find a passion that gives back to the people who give to you, there is almost no ‘worst’ aspect to it. If we have to pick the worst thing, it’s that there are not enough hours in the day.

Where do you see your company in 5 years?

In five years, we plan to be operating another wholesale production operation in Nashville and hire a manager for both the Knoxville and Nashville centers. We also will expand our system installation presence in the market as well as pursue consultation contracts. We have continuing projects in Guatemala installing systems for small farmers, so those will be ongoing at that time.

Swarm (University of Tennessee, Knoxville)

Swarm offers student-influencer marketing solutions to student housing companies. We recruit the most influential students on college campuses and leverage their social media presence to generate exposure and collect leads for student housing developments.
Team: Michael Newton, Founder, University of Tennessee Knoxville, Sophomore
Connect with Swarm: Twitter @getswarm

What inspired your company?

A personal mentor of mine began his career in marketing, so naturally as he began to teach me the ins and outs of entrepreneurship I learned to see things from a marketer’s perspective. As soon as I arrived on campus I noticed that methods being used to reach today’s college students were entirely ineffective and expensive. I saw the problem and set out to create a solution that would allow brands to embed their products into the lives of students through strategic, yet genuine marketing techniques.

What’s your secret sauce?

I have an incredible team of mentors, an unrelenting desire to succeed, a unique – results focused product, and a road map that is incredibly concise. Although that is my personal “secret sauce” I would say that Swarm’s secret sauce would have to be our proven processes that allow us to offer our service and deliver results more effectively than any other company in the industry. We solve the hard problems internally so our clients can rely on us to solve their hard problems externally.

What is the best and worst thing about being a student founder?

The best: Waking up each day knowing that I am executing certain tasks that are moving me one step closer to my dream. Not that this has anything to do with being a student, but each day I have this overwhelming gratitude for the opportunity that I was given to create my own life and spend each day building it. Not many people in this world have the chance to even attempt to create their own life, and for that reason I believe the best thing about being a founder is having the freedom to create, solve problems, and help others succeed.

The worst: The first thing that comes to mind would have to be time management, however I almost put that as my answer for “best things” instead of “worst” because although it is challenging to manage academics with starting and running a business, it is also a huge learning experience. The challenges presented to me as a student founder have been my true education as they have taught me things that no class ever would. I can’t say that there is anything that is the “worst” because even the most challenging things have allowed me to grow and become stronger and more effective.

Where do you see your company in 5 years?

Swarm in its current form will be acquired by then, however I will be launching a company similar to Swarm, but for the wider ecosystem of companies that serve college students which will become the largest college student influencer-marketing solutions company in the industry. I’ll also be running a consulting firm; helping the largest brands of today connect with Gen-Z more effectively.

Zeno Power Systems (Vanderbilt University)

Zeno Power Systems is developing a radioisotope power system for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), which will allow a UAV to have a nonstop flight endurance of over one year. With flight endurance over 250x greater than any UAV currently in use by the US military, a Zeno powered UAV will enable the military to more accurately maintain surveillance on areas of interest and provide intelligence to keep our military personnel safe and better prepare for “boots on the ground” missions. A Zeno powered UAV will also have several commercial applications, such as a communications platform that brings internet and telecommunications access to underserved areas and developing nations.
Team: Tyler Bernstein, CEO, Vanderbilt University, Junior; Jonathan Segal, COO, Vanderbilt University, Senior; Jake Matthews, Chief Engineer, Vanderbilt University, Master’s Student

What inspired your company?

One of our co-founders, Jonathan, has been obsessed with the airline and aviation industry since he was a baby. And believe us- he talks about it enough. Jonathan transitioned his love for the industry into three summer internships at United Airlines where he recognized a lack of real innovation in the space.  The aviation industry hasn’t seen a radical shift since the invention of the jet aircraft in the 1950s. And worse of all, they still rely on dirty, pollutant heavy jet fuel, whereas the auto and train industries have both shifted to clean alternative fuel sources. Jonathan brought this idea to Tyler, and together they developed the idea of using radioisotope power to power an aircraft to radically extend flight endurance, and also reduce aircraft emissions to zero.

We are starting with UAVs to demonstrate the safety and feasibility of radioisotope powered flight, but recognize that it has potential far beyond this one application. We believe in clean radioisotope power, and while we did not take a normal path to this point, we feel strongly that we are just crazy enough to be the ones to pursue it.

What’s your secret sauce?

Radioisotope power systems have been used before for deep space missions- we are adapting this technology for use within the atmosphere. When NASA designed these systems for space, they were extremely heavy due to their shielding. This shielding had to be designed to withstand re-entry back into Earth’s atmosphere. By using 21st century advancements in material science, we are able to create a far lighter shield, light enough to enable safe powered flight of a UAV.

What is the best and worst thing about being a student founder?

We quickly figured out that seasoned professionals love sharing their wisdom on students- and we have taken full advantage of this. We cannot tell you how many meetings we have gotten just because we introduce ourselves as students.

The worst part is getting over the pressure that exists for college students to do traditional internships. Today’s internship culture is so competitive that it does not make it easy for aspiring entrepreneurs to spend a summer pursuing a startup.

Where do you see your company in 5 years?

In 2023 there will be Zeno powered UAVs in flight, around the globe, 24hrs a day, 7 days a week.


Check back next week to meet more finalists and mark your calendar to vote for your favorite startup starting August 4.

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