Local entrepreneurs earn $10,500 in Knoxville Area Urban League business pitch contest

Five winners of the Knoxville Area Urban League’s business pitch contest have received checks totaling $10,500 for enterprises ranging from health care to art classes.

Mark Isom, the founder and president of Premiere Building Maintenance Corporation, presented the entrepreneurs with checks during Impact Week, a virtual fundraiser held in late 2020 for the Knoxville Area Urban League’s community initiatives, including the 10-week CO.STARTERS training program for entrepreneurs.

Isom provides funding for the program, along with Randy Boyd, founder and executive chairman of Radio Systems Corporation, and his wife, Jenny Boyd.

“I want to congratulate the five entrepreneurs for having the vision to start a business and the commitment to pursue it,” said Phyllis Y. Nichols, president and CEO of the Knoxville Area Urban League. “The CO.STARTERS program is a key part of our mission to bring businesses and jobs to our community and empower people economically.”

The program allows participants to build and test small business ideas while gaining feedback from their classroom peers and instructors and input from local, successful business owners. At the end of the program, participants pitch their business to a panel of judges for a chance to win $5,000.

After meeting in-person just twice, the 2020 program shifted to a virtual setting due to the pandemic, and the Knoxville Area Urban League continued to host guest speakers via Zoom.

First-place winner Jackie Holloway is an artist and the executive director of Canvas Can Do Miracles, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in East Knoxville that provides free, weekly community-based art classes to individuals with substance abuse issues to aid in recovery and redirection of their lives.

“The CO.STARTERS program elevated Canvas Can Do Miracles to the next level,” Holloway said. “Winning not only boosts my confidence, but it also allows me to launch the final page of our website and purchase needed equipment.”

Second-place winner Julia Ball is a family nurse practitioner and East Knoxville native. She earned $2,500 to support her business plan for East Knox Primary and Urgent Afterhours Care, an affordable health care center.

Ball has been a health care worker for more than 35 years and has earned a master’s degree in nursing from the University of Tennessee.

“I enrolled in CO.STARTERS with absolutely no idea how to start up, maintain and run a successful business,” Ball said. “The class provided a baseline of knowledge that will help me start my lifelong dream and maintain it for years to come.”

Three third-place winners earned $1,000: Molly Anderson, a life coach and speaker who started a business to inspire people with disabilities to overcome barriers; Kevin and Amy Brazelton, who own Dog City, a mobile hot dog stand that provides family-friendly food; and Lakeisha Stover, CEO of Gold Key Access, a company that helps families stay connected to incarcerated loved ones.

The Knoxville Area Urban League’s business programs, including CO.STARTERS, are part of the organization’s primary efforts to fulfill its mission of economic empowerment and stability for people of all backgrounds. Through these programs as well as a lending program, the Knoxville Area Urban League supports entrepreneurs at all stages and brings in successful business leaders like Boyd and Isom to show the way.

Boyd funded the CO.STARTERS grant through the United Way of Greater Knoxville. A leader in business and the community, Boyd is the founder of Radio Systems Corporation, which includes PetSafe and Invisible Fence, and now serves as president of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Funding for the program also came from community partners, including the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development’s LiftTN: Microenterprise grants, which provide resources and tools to underserved and underrepresented microenterprises in urban and rural areas.

For more information or to apply for one of the Knoxville Area Urban League’s business programs or capital loans, visit www.thekaul.org.