Finalists for 36|86 are:
- The Birds + The Bees, UTC. Category: B2B Software Platform, Social Enterprise
- Zeno Power Systems, Vanderbilt University. Category: Other
- PredictionHealth, Vanderbilt University. Category: B2B Software
- Allinwon, University of Memphis. Category: Commercialized Technology, B2B Software, B2C Platform
- College In Color, Belmont University. Category: Social Enterprise, Consumer Goods/Services
- Greenleaf Solutions, University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Category: Commercialized Technology, Consumer Goods/Services, Social Enterprise
- Flo+ Co, University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Category: Consumer Goods/Services
- Synchro Motion, LLC, Vanderbilt University. Category: Commercialized Technology
- Fathom, Vanderbilt University. Category: Social Enterprise
- ATS Innovations, Tennessee Technological University. Category: Consumer Goods/Services
- Clu Technologies, Rhodes College. Category: B2B Software
- Swarm Solutions, University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Category: B2B Software
- Studious Freelancing, Belmont University. Category: B2B Software
Looking for a new educational pathway—her first choice of interior design didn’t, shall we say, pull together harmoniously—Kenzie Butera turned to Women’s Studies.
Signing up for a “Violence Against Women” course, she found the subject resonating with her.
“I got really excited about all the topics we were talking about. They were really relevant and contemporary and they were everything I was really interested in solving,” she recalls.
A following course in social entrepreneurship cemented her new direction.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is really cool. I can make money and I can solve social issues. This is exactly what I want to do,’” says Butera, a Brock Scholar majoring in women’s studies with a minor social entrepreneurship.
Her desire to make a difference is one of the reasons she came up with The Birds + the Bees, a proposed business to create tools that help with sex education from the perspectives of children learning and parents teaching. Among her ideas are electronic and board games, mobile apps, books and software to “create age-appropriate, evidence-based sex education tools for ages preschool to 16 or 17,” she says.
“‘Healthy education’ is probably a better umbrella term. It involves so much more than just sex,” she says.
Her business idea landed her as one of the finalists in this year’s 36|86 Entrepreneur Festival, a competition that invites 13 teams from colleges and universities around the state to pitch their business idea to a panel of judges in Nashville. Chatty, laser-focused and deeply committed, Butera is the only representative from UTC.
The top three teams in the competition can receive up to $20,000 for their businesses, and a team selected by the audience is given $10,000 in the People Choices Award. On Aug. 28, students will be paired with mentors in Nashville to refine their business pitch. Winners will be announced the same day.
“There’s a wealth of entrepreneurial talent running through Tennessee’s university system,” said LaunchTN CEO Charlie Brock. “36|86: Student Edition gives our most promising student founders the opportunity to connect with experienced mentors, pitch their ideas to experts and potentially gain funding that will help them build their startups in Tennessee.”
With many public schools systems not able—or willing—to teach the subject, she wants to “remove sex education from the public sphere, from public schools, and bring it back to the home, to increase education between parents and students.”
“I thought, ‘What is something that’s interactive and engaging that might get kids to learn this information and they don’t even realize that they’re learning it?’” says Butera, who has worked for the past year as a program specialist for Chattanooga’s Co.Lab.
The world is bombarded with sexual references through popular culture, and it’s confusing for kids, she says
“They’re seeing billboards and TV shows and music and advertisements and all these forms of popular media that are just throwing sex at them all the time, but they don’t know what to do with it and they certainly don’t understand it,” Butera says.
“I think we’re kidding ourselves if we say, ‘Hey, just don’t have sex’ and we’re throwing all this popular media at them that says ‘Hey, sex is really cool,’ and we’re not providing them education on what sex actually is.”
While the name of her business will have to change because there is already a company called The Birds + the Bees, her ultimate goal will be the same.
“My goal is that, by the time I’m 60 or 70, I want to be able to look back and say, ‘I did something positive,’” she says. “This is just the big, big, big, big, big dream, but I would love look at the rate of STDs and teen pregnancies and domestic violence and sexual assault and say, ‘Hey, since I implemented whatever the final product will be, those rates have gone down.’”
Not that she’s so self-centered she thinks her business will be the only factor in that outcome; it would be enough to know that she has some kind of impact, even if it’s small.
“I’m not reinventing the wheel; there are plenty of competent sex education programs out there; it’s a just a matter of turning them into something that’s really engaging for students and it doesn’t have to be things that are taught by an educator.”