How student entrepreneurs are making waves in Tennessee

Launch Tennessee
Nov 12 · 3 min read

From quantum computing to transformative medical devices, next-gen innovation is changing the game. Two 36|86 Student Edition 2019 finalists share their startup journeys.

Erica Grant and Lia Winter wowed audiences and judges alike this year when they took the stage at the 36|86 Student Edition pitch competition last summer. The two student founders demonstrated their innovative ideas and business know-how, proving that Tennessee is home to some of the next generation’s best and brightest entrepreneurs.

“Something I love about Tennessee is that … it’s a really great community,” said Grant, whose startup Quantum Lock Technologies took home the gold this year. “There are a lot of developers, there are a lot of creators, there is some investment, and they all are seeking out the good companies.”

In this episode of Disrupt the Continuum, Grant and Winter break down how they built their startups as UT Knoxville students, and share how organizations like LaunchTN have empowered them to grow.

Unlocking the potential of Tennessee’s tech talent

Erica Grant is a PhD student at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and UT Knoxville who is making a name for herself as the founder and CEO of Quantum Lock Technologies. Her company uses quantum computing to make smart-lock devices designed to be virtually unhackable. While she’s currently focused on taking her tech to the hotel industry, there are dozens of potential markets.

“There’s car doors, apartment complexes, businesses, lockboxes,” she explained. “We’re making it very flexible so that it can fit into all of those markets.”

The community-minded spirit of Tennessee’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has been instrumental in Grant’s growth. Organizations like the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, and LaunchTN “give you a lot of attention and really just genuinely want to help you along the way,” she said.

The Quantum Lock team is currently hard at work on IP and software development, and Grant recently competed in the SEC Student Pitch competition. Her startup has gained traction, she explained, because she stepped out of her comfort zone and got connected.

“You don’t know you can do it until you do it,” she said. “You just have the idea, and you put yourself out there, you take the next step, you find the people to help you. Because there’s so many people out there who will help you.”

Sparking medical innovation

Lia Winter is one of the 12 entrepreneurs selected to pitch at 36|86 Student Edition. A recent graduate of UT Knoxville, she founded Winter Innovations, a startup that has developed an innovative surgical tool for orthopedic reconstructive procedures.

Winter shared how getting plugged into the Anderson Center in Knoxville and the Memphis-based ZeroTo510 Medical Device Accelerator helped her with everything from financial planning to product testing.

She also highlighted how competing in 36|86 Student Edition and other pitch competitions can impact a startup’s growth. “It’s been incredible just to prepare for [the pitch], going through the process,” she said. “We also have met with investors, people who are very influential in the Nashville and Tennessee entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Since competing in 36|86 Student Edition, Winter Innovations has gone on to win the Knoxville Startup Day pitch competition, compete in the Collegiate Inventors Competition, and will pitch at the LSTCON Venture Forum in Nashville on November 14. Winter and her team are moving forward with the FDA’s testing process, and they’re currently in the midst of raising their first round of capital from investors.

The Tennessee ecosystem is full of resources that empower innovators like Grant and Winter to take their ideas to the market. “If you would’ve asked me when I started graduate school if I would start my own company,” said Winter, “I never would’ve imagined two years later I’d be here as the founder working full-time to launch my own product.”

To hear these stories and more, subscribe to Disrupt the Continuum wherever you get your podcasts. This season of Disrupt the Continuum is powered by Pinnacle Financial Partners. To learn more about LaunchTN programming, resources, and events, visit launchtn.org.

Launch Tennessee

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LaunchTN is a public-private organization that fosters entrepreneurship, with the goal of making Tennessee the most startup-friendly state in the nation.

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