Local entrepreneurs win $15,000 from Knoxville Area Urban League business pitch contests

December 7, 2018

Today, Randy Boyd, founder and chairman of Radio Systems Corporation, presented checks totaling $15,000 to Audrey Wrushen and Sherene Jacobs, winners of two business pitch contests by the Knoxville Area Urban League.

Boyd congratulated Wrushen and Jacobs and presented the entrepreneurs with the checks during a ceremony at the Knoxville Area Urban League’s headquarters. Boyd and his wife, Jenny Boyd, provide funding as part of their personal commitment to entrepreneurship and opportunity in Knoxville.

Terrence Carter of the Knoxville Area Urban League, winner Audrey Wrushen, Randy Boyd, and Knoxville Area Urban League CEO Phyllis Nichols gather to celebrate the recent business pitch results.

Wrushen, an accountant with the goal to purchase a Liberty Tax franchise, participated in the nonprofit’s 10-week CO.STARTERS program, which allows entrepreneurs to build and test business ideas while gaining feedback from their classroom peers and instructors Terrence Carter and Felix Harris of the Knoxville Area Urban League. Local, successful business owners also visited the class each week to share knowledge and expertise. At the

end of the program, participants pitched their businesses to a panel of judges for a chance to win $5,000.

Wrushen plans to secure the franchise in June 2019 to help individuals and businesses better manage their tax and bookkeeping needs while incorporating cloud-based technology. Wrushen credits the CO.STARTERS training program for helping translate her goal into an actionable business plan.

“The CO.STARTERS program was one of the most valuable experiences I have ever had,” Wrushen said. “The class is set up to help you analyze every aspect of your business. I’ve learned so much about my industry, potential customers, competitors and even myself. I now feel confident in my ability to succeed as an entrepreneur and make a difference in the community. I am truly grateful and honored to be chosen as the winner of the pitch contest. To me, it is just validation from God that I am on the right path to my entrepreneurial purpose.”

Sherene Jacobs and her daughter, September Max, who plan to open a coffee shop in Burlington, earned $10,000 in this year’s Paradigm Challenge contest, which is designed to support businesses and promote economic growth in East Knoxville communities.

The pair’s plans for Perk City include a menu tailored to the area’s tastes – driven by community input, affordable pricing and hyperlocal product sourcing – and charitable giving through menu items that tie to local nonprofits. Jacobs and Max intend to showcase the spirit and heart of East Knoxville to enrich the community. The shop will offer a meeting space, activities for young adults, free Wi-Fi and diverse cultural programming to showcase East Knoxville artists. The pair also intend to acquire a Safe Place certification for the shop, among other benefits that Perk City seeks to provide for the neighborhood.

Terrence Carter of the Knoxville Area Urban League, winner Sherene Jacobs, Randy Boyd, and Knoxville Area Urban League CEO Phyllis Nichols gather to celebrate the recent business pitch results.

“My daughter’s passion is coffee, and my passions are people and community,” Jacobs said. “The Paradigm Challenge grant was a great step forward toward being able to construct our goals and vision. Programs like these offered by the Urban League are so important, not only for the financial support, but also the support of community professionals in economic development. It assures that we are on the right path and our community’s members are behind us. That vote of confidence gives us the hope of making our dreams for the future of East Knoxville a reality. We are so thankful for this opportunity and award from the Urban League and its partners.”

The Knoxville Area Urban League’s business programs, including CO.STARTERS and the Paradigm Challenge, 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 to show the way.

“Support of local businesses and budding entrepreneurs is an essential part of growing a sustainable economy,” said Phyllis Y. Nichols, president and CEO of the Knoxville Area Urban League. “I look forward to watching these two entrepreneurs use the lessons learned and funding from these programs to become successful business owners and contribute to the growth of our community.”

Funding for the programs 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.

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

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

About the Knoxville Area Urban League
Since 1968, the Knoxville Area Urban League has assisted disadvantaged people attain social and economic stability and self-sufficiency through direct services and advocacy. The League works to provide a skilled and diverse workforce; to increase homeownership; to support economic and small business development, and to enhance education efforts for our youth. The Knoxville Area Urban League is a United Way partner agency and affiliate of the National Urban League. The League’s work and results are evident in the lives of the over 8,000 people it impacts each year. For more information, go to http://www.thekaul.org/.

For more information on the Knoxville Area Urban League and its programs, call 865-524-5511 or visit http://www.thekaul.org.