Part 2: Q&A with Lia Winters of Winter Innovation

Startup Day 2019 winner reflects on the pitch competition experience, offers advice to 2020 competitors

Lia Winter has come a long way since she first developed the idea for a novel surgical stitching solution during her undergraduate days. Her East Tennessee-based startup is making waves at pitch competitions across the country, including right here in her backyard. Last year, Winter Innovations took home the Judge’s Choice and Crowd Favorite awards at the 2019 Startup Day pitch competition.

In this last-part of a two-part Q&A series with the Startup Day 2019 winner, Lia revisits last year’s win and offers some advice to the entrepreneurs vying for this year’s awards.

It’s been one year since you won the Judge’s Choice and Crowd Favorite awards at Startup Day 2019. What was the pitch competition experience like?

Lia: I attended Startup Day for the first time in 2018 and remember being impressed with the pitch competition finalists. It was a pleasant surprise when, just a year later, I received notification that Winter Innovations had been selected as a finalist for the 2019 Startup Day pitch competition. I started preparing my pitch deck immediately. WATE-TV news hosted the finalists for Elevator Pitch sessions, where the crew filmed us getting on an elevator with the news anchor and answering rapid fire questions about our companies. These segments were fun to shoot and they aired on the evening news a few weeks before Startup Day. 

After the Elevator Pitches, it was full speed ahead with pitch practice. I practiced a lot before my pitches and enlisted the help of my mentors at the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to get feedback on my pitch. On the big day, we arrived early and did a practice run before it was show time. I was the first presenter and I actually felt very comfortable on stage, partly because the charismatic Brandon Bruce was the host, and partly because when I looked out into the crowd, I saw many familiar faces.

After we delivered our pitches and the judges deliberated, the Crowd Favorite prize was announced. I was so happy when they revealed the giant check and announced that we had won! We had done a lot to promote the event within our network. When the judges announced that we had also won the Judge’s Choice prize, I felt a mixture of elation and surprise because the other companies had delivered impressive presentations. The award money was put toward our first manufactured production batch of EasyWhip™ needles.

What advice can you give to the entrepreneurs competing this year? 

Lia: Part of the reason we were successful was because we told a story with our pitch. We shared our personal connection and passion for our company and the Knoxville area and its entrepreneurship support system. My advice to entrepreneurs competing this year would be to tell a story with your pitch and reflect on how the Knoxville ecosystem has helped your company grow.

Part 1: Q&A with Lia Winters of Winter Innovation

Winter Innovations continues to make strides one year after winning the Startup Day 2019 pitch competition

Lia Winter’s passion to revolutionize orthopedic surgery comes from firsthand experience. She suffered her own orthopedic injury in high school and witnessed her mother’s long road to recovery following complications from ACL surgery. Winter knew there had to be a way to improve the surgery process and she made it her goal to find it. The result? EasyWhipTM, a two-step surgical needle that improves the stability, speed, and efficiency of graft stitching. This device is the focus of Winter Innovations, founded in 2018.

Lia has successfully pitched her company in competitions around the country, including in East Tennessee. Winter Innovations took home the Judge’s Choice and Crowd Favorite awards at the 2019 Startup Day pitch competition

In this first-part of a two-part Q&A series with the Startup Day 2019 winner, Lia shares some exciting developments that have occurred over the last year.

A lot has happened for you and Winter Innovations this year. What are some notable highlights? 

Lia: The past year has been very exciting for Winter Innovations. Since competing in Startup Day, we’ve been featured in six other pitch competitions. In January, we closed our pre-seed funding round and are proud that our lead investor was an angel group from East Tennessee. We leveraged the capital to develop the EasyWhip™ packaging system and completed our first live production run of EasyWhip™ needles at our contract manufacturer last month. We also received a response from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office concerning our primary patent application. We have a set of allowed claims that will protect EasyWhip™ in the marketplace and expect our first patent to issue soon. 

The pandemic has impacted people and companies around the world. How is Winter Innovations pivoting and/or adapting to this new world we live in? 

Lia: We’ve stayed focused on launching EasyWhip™. Elective surgeries for ligament and tendon repair have slowed in many areas of the country, but a surge is expected after the virus is under control. We are working diligently to complete the necessary testing to submit our 510(k) to the FDA so EasyWhip™ is ready for launch and can be available to help surgeons and patients when we do see an uptick in elective surgeries again. 

Our way of doing business has definitely changed, too. Things slowed down when the pandemic first hit, as many of our suppliers and manufacturers were faced with implementing social distancing measures and transitioning to shift work schedules. As a startup, we are used to adapting. We are busier than ever preparing for our FDA submission and have leveraged remote team members to support us in these efforts.

Looking ahead to the next year or two, what do you and Winter Innovations have on the horizon?

Lia: Our next significant milestone is to submit our 510(k) to the FDA, which we are on track to complete by the end of this year. We expect to obtain clearance and launch EasyWhip™ by the end of 2021. We are currently raising our seed funding round.

Local startup wins $10,000, mayoral candidates face off at 2019 Startup Day

The Knoxville community packed the house at The Mill & Mine on Tuesday for a lively celebration of local inventors and innovation at the seventh annual Startup Day, the signature event of Innov865 Week.

The festivities kicked off with the first head-to-head matchup of the general election between Knoxville’s mayoral finalists, Eddie Mannis and Indya Kincannon. Moderated by WATE 6 On Your Side anchor Kristin Farley, the forum focused on the candidates’ plans to foster Knoxville’s growing entrepreneurship community and advance economic growth in the region. The candidates engaged in a lively debate about attracting innovators and new businesses to Knoxville, ideas for building a dedicated innovation district, ways to support minority-owned businesses, and pathways to ensuring Knoxville’s children and residents have access to the tools and technology necessary for economic opportunity.

At the annual pitch competition, local startup Winter Innovations was crowned 2019 Judge’s Choice winner as well as Crowd Favorite winner, an award sponsored by SunTrust Bank, and took home a combined cash prize of $10,000. This year’s pitch competition was the most competitive yet, as the Innov865 Alliance handpicked six local startups for their extraordinary potential and investability to participate in the “Shark Tank”-style pitch competition.

“SunTrust Bank is proud to support local entrepreneurs and invest in the future of our city and region,” said Harry Gross, Knoxville President of SunTrust Bank. “We join the Knoxville community in celebrating these startups and empowering new businesses and economic opportunity.”

Winter Innovations was named the winner in a fiercely competitive field of some of the area’s most investable startups, which included two software companies, two medical device companies, and two energy companies: Active Energy Systems, EDP Biotech, Reviewbox, SmartRIA, and TCPoly.

The entrepreneurs pitched their companies on-stage before a three-judge expert panel: Richard Dapaah, venture partner with FundRX and Knoxville Entrepreneur Center executive-in-residence; Sue Malone, president of Strategies for Small Business; and Ted Serbinski, Startup Day 2019’s featured guest and managing director of Techstars Mobility, an American seed accelerator with more than 1,900 companies in its portfolio that’s invested more than $6.2 billion in startups since 2006.

The day also featured fireside chat with President and CEO Kelly Tiller of Genera, a local startup affiliated with the University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF) that recently secured a $118 million investment for sustainable packaging and fiber products made from grass.

“Startup Day showcases the world-class technology and innovation happening right here in Knoxville, and importantly, rallies community leaders, officials, and citizens behind these entrepreneurs helping drive growth in our region,” said Maha Krishnamurthy, vice president of UTRF, a member of the Innov865 Alliance.

Innov865 Week continues this week with both public and invitation-only festivities including a reception with local startups and venture capitalists, happy hours, and networking opportunities with local startups and venture capitalists. On Thursday, September 26, all are invited to join two events: Innovation Crossroads Showcase, a celebration of Oak Ridge National Lab’s Innovation Crossroads graduates and showcase of the incoming cohort of new energy startups, and an Investor Series powered by Three Roots Capital with Bill Malkes, GRIDSMART co-founder and former CEO, and Grady Vanderhoofven, CEO of Three Roots Capital and Managing Partner of Meritus Capital, the lead investor in GRIDSMART. The events will be held at the Square Room at Cafe 4 at 4:00PM and 6:00PM, respectively. RSVP here for the Innovation Crossroads showcase and here for the Innov865 Investor Series. For a complete calendar of Innov865 happenings, go to