COOKEVILLE – Brandon Pierce and his company, Future Innovators, won first place at Tennessee Tech University’s 9th annual Eagle Works competition that was held Saturday, April 9. Twelve student teams from across campus pitched their business idea Shark Tank-style to a panel of judges for a piece of the prize pool worth over $13,000 in donor-funded scholarships.
Pierce, a senior business management and environmental sustainability major from Elizabethton, took home the $7,500 first prize. Future Innovators is a non-profit company that provides free STEM activities, materials and free STEM tutoring to rural Appalachian students.
“In 2020 I was accepted into the LaunchTN Student Business Mentorship program, and one of the judges mentioned that for my major, Tennessee Tech would have a degree program with Interdisciplinary studies to fit my interest, future career and my startup,” Pierce said.
Future Innovators has opened the door for children in Carter County to enjoy building battle bots and other STEM-based learning activities throughout the community. Pierce, founder and CEO, has also been nominated to represent Tech this year for the Tennessee Higher Education Harold Love outstanding community service award.
Pierce says he grew up in a low-income family and knew his only way for a better future was to make it happen himself. He said he was an inventive child but didn’t have the guidance, resources or someone to connect him with a college professor or anyone who could take his ideas further.
“I knew I had to do something, that way kids had opportunities to never be discouraged about an idea,” Pierce said. “Plus, they could have the opportunity to build STEM projects to fuel their creativity and skill sets for their future careers.”
This was Pierce’s second time competing in an Eagle Works competition. He has also competed in three university business competitions, a government year-long program, and represented Tech at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards competition, where he placed as a regional finalist.
“But this time my emotions got the best of me, I was able to see how far I had come from just an idea,” Pierce said. “For how Tech staff, professors, the Eagle Works program, advisors and many more people, had helped me reach this point to present Future Innovators my senior year.”
Pierce said he had achieved his growth strategy from last year’s Eagle Works feedback.
“It was amazing to see where I had come from and where I am going. With the impact of having kids in my hometown excited to see me and build STEM kits,” Pierce said. “Pitching this year was a blessing because of how I can say past years GSEA competition and Eagle Works competition helped me adjust my business plan to achieve my goals!”
Pierce said he wanted to present his project for Eagle Works because he knew that the feedback would help him see things to adjust or ways to better represent what Future Innovators does. Plus, the prize money would help him buy more STEM kits to have summer STEM events.
“It means to me that I have a business that captures the heart and mind of the judges and audience,” Pierce said. “Winning first place is an amazing feeling, but for me, it just means that what I am doing with Future Innovators impacts more than just me.”
Future Innovators will host more STEM events this summer with the prize money and be able to provide STEM activities at the three after-school programs they work with.
They plan to build a board of directors to have the right guidance and structure to become a 501(c)(3). They then plan to apply for education grants and seek out funding from crowdfunding or angel investors.
Pierce plans to continue to advance his company after graduation and help more kids in Carter County and Johnson County, Tennessee have the resources and materials to enjoy STEM activities.