Faith-based business competition set for Saturday at Covenant

Caroline Campbell
photo Caroline Campbell

If You Go

If you go What: Elevate startup business-plan competition Where: EPB Corporate Office, 10 W. ML KingBlvd., Chattanooga When: Saturday, 5-8 p.m. Cost: Free, open to the public

South regional Elevate finalists

MBA Centers International, Oklahoma Baptist University Million Dollar Scholar, Morehouse College Driven Analytics, University of Oklahoma Pumpkin Vine Creek, Asbury University Seeds of Change, Johnson University Sentinelle, University of Florida Remedy Flies, Lee University Guardian Armor Systems, LeTourneau University

These startups are counting on Jesus. In fact, they wouldn't be in the running to win $70,000 if religious faith weren't part of the mix.

The budding companies will compete Saturday in a national business-plan competition believed to be the first of its kind: one that is faith-based.

Created by an early-stage venture capital fund in Silicon Valley, Elevate has turned to Covenant College to host its southern regional finals. The winning team will leave with $20,000 and be one of four regional finalists poised to win another $50,000 at Elevate's national competition on April 18 in California.

Telos Ventures, which is almost a year old, created the national competition just a few months ago at the suggestion of Chattanooga resident Daryl Heald, said David Kim, one of the fund's founders and managing partners, which counts the Maclellan Foundation of Chattanooga among its investors.

"We raise money from Christian investors to fund for-profit startups led by Christian entrepreneurs," Kim summed up. In the case of Elevate, the startups must also all include at least one student as part of its management team.

Telos had 90 applications for its competition throughout the country, Kim said.

The key question each startup had to answer: "Where do we see God in this?" said Anthony Tucker, who is coordinating the South competition. "How are they living out their faith through their business model or plan?"

But the product or solution doesn't have to be Bible-based, Kim said.

All the teams submitted business plans that were first vetted on the regional level. The south team included Tucker, Enoch Elwell of Co.Starters, Lane Ford of Skuid and Covenant College CFO Dan Wykoff. A national team of 20 professionals weighed in on finalists too.

The eight teams competing Saturday come from as far as Atlanta, Florida, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Texas. Locally, one is from Cleveland, and one is from Knoxville. Six judges, professionals from the region, will decide who wins, after teams make seven-minute presentations each, followed by answering seven minutes of questions each.

Caroline Campbell, a senior at Lee University in Cleveland, is the president of the five-student team that created Remedy Flies. The company was the idea of the students' economic development professor, who is also one of four professionals who own part of the company.

The startup plans to partner with People for Care and Learning, based in Cleveland, to hire workers in Nepal and Cambodia to make fly-fishing flies by hand at a fair wage and with other benefits. Remedy Flies plans to coordinate with Rainy's to distribute them.

"They can't be machine-made and there's a big need for them now," said Campbell, 22. "The sport is increasing. It's a growing trend." Demand for the hand-made fishing flies also increased when a plant in the Philippines shut down, she said.

Telos typically invests $50,000 to $300,000 in startups and has so far invested in five, including a Website out of Seattle called KitchenBowl, wherein amateur and professionals chefs upload their recipes and show viewers how to make them, and CareerDean, a career-guidance website out of Silicon Valley.

Elevate is meant to literally elevate and mobilize a generation of entrepreneurs and investors "to work for the good of others (Genesis 2:15), use God-given gifts (Romans 12:6), and multiply God's resources (Luke 19:11-27) for God's purpose and Kingdom," according to the competition's vision statement

"I wanted to encourage this generation of college and graduate students to not cede anything to secular universities," Kim said.

Contact staff writer Mitra Malek at or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter @MitraMalek.