Author Archives: Emma MacCurdy

About Emma MacCurdy

Rhodes College'17 Business Major 2017 Start Co. Associate

Startup Spotlight: SILQ-EDU


Allison Sheppard Nokes, Co-Founder of SILQ-EDU, has been involved with youth education for over fifteen years.  The SILQ-EDU data dashboard allows principals and program coordinators to pinpoint students who need intervention by bridging disparate school data.

Allison Sheppard Nokes SILQ-EDU

Allison Sheppard Nokes, Co-Founder of SILQ-EDU

Q: Tell me about yourself and SILQ-EDU.

A: I am Allison Sheppard Nokes and I have been a teacher and administrator for fifteen years. SILQ-EDU is a data platform that helps schools merge their student information, and access it in a central location. The problem is that schools use multiple data systems for things such as assessments, behavior, attendance, and grades. Our dashboard system uses this complete information to plainly identify students who are in need of intervention. Principals and school leaders know that they have the expertise and access to services that can help prevent drop-outs. We streamline the process of identifying the kids who are most critically at-risk of dropping out so principals can intervene sooner.

Q: What is the inspiration behind SILQ-EDU?

A: I have a Master’s degree in Ed-Tech Integration. Even as a classroom teacher, other teachers came to me for help with computers and technology. So, I have years of experience with the vast offering of ed-tech products which exist. Most schools use an average of three or more platforms with which to generate student data. One main value that the SILQ-EDU dashboard provides to schools is the aggregation of all of the data because let’s face it, it’s hard to use data that is separated out into so many different systems. Also, my partner, Borhan Samei, is a data scientist finishing his Ph.D. at the University of Memphis.  Borhan is responsible for the technology behind the SILQ-EDU dashboard.

Q: What have you learned in the past year that will benefit SILQ-EDU in the upcoming year?

A: Watching Start Co. pool resources and gather people together has inspired my thoughts regarding working together. I think Memphis is on the verge of a great explosion of growth, but the only way we are going to reap sustaining benefits from this growth is by working together as a community. Start Co. is an entrepreneurial community, but it is also a community-building organization. As a native Memphian, I’m excited to see what all of the Start Co. Accelerator teams will accomplish.

Q:  What has been your favorite memory at Start Co. so far?

A: Start Q was so much fun! It allowed us to socialize and build camaraderie with the other founders. I also appreciated the mentorship with local and non-local entrepreneurs and investors.  Good food, good drinks, and good people is a good combination.

Q: How do you take advantage of your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses?

A: One of my strengths is the ability to communicate with people easily. I love interacting with others. Everyone has a little seed planted inside themselves which can allow them to change the world. I love helping people tap into their passions and watching them figure out how to best contribute to the world.

My weakness is being excited about everything – which can get me distracted from priorities. To combat this, I set reminders on my calendar to block out my schedule. It allows me to set aside time when I have to get things done.

Q: What is your finish line?

A: I’m never finished, whether that is working on SILQ-EDU or finding another way to create a positive change in the world. Every day, I have a handful of pebbles in my hand, and the world is a big pond in front of me. I want to make sure that every pebble I throw in the pond causes a good ripple effect. Whether SILQ-EDU will be the pebble that I work on forever or something else is to be seen. I am never finished.

Allison Sheppard Nokes is Co-Founder of SILQ-EDU, a data-dashboard providing complete insight to educators.


Rhodes College Alumnae in the World of Entrepreneurship


Recent female Rhodes College graduates are making an impact in the entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Memphis. Each of these ladies majored in a variety of disciplines; however, they used their Rhodes experience to enter and impact the business community.

Rhodes College Women Alumnae

Top Row: Sarah Baumann, Daisy Laird. Bottom Row:
Lindsay Gess, Claire Coulter


Sarah Baumann ’16

Sarah, an Urban Studies major, now works as an entrepreneur. She devotes her time to her business, Signet Sealed and uses her artistic abilities to illustrate major attractions and themes in prominent cities in the United States and beyond. Sarah loved the idea of being “her own boss” and turning her hobby into a business opportunity, which is one of the first things that appealed to her about entrepreneurship. Sarah credits the Rhodes community with promoting her business and, of course, being some of her first customers. Since graduation, Sarah invests her energy full-time to Signet Sealed. Her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is to “Start Now!”

View Sarah’s creations on the Signet Sealed website:

Daisy Laird ’13

Alongside her courses, Daisy worked in the Rhodes College Career Services office. She believes that positions like her student employee and RSA roles “teach real, applicable skills that allow students to be exposed to the world of business… regardless of their backgrounds”. For those interested in becoming an entrepreneur, Daisy suggests taking advantage of Start Co.’s online resources and asking for advice from mentors. 

Following completion of her degree in Theatre at Rhodes, Daisy continued her education at Christian Brothers University, obtaining her MBA with a concentration in Project Management. She is now the Chief of Staff & Relationship Manager at Start Co. and enjoys impacting the Memphis business community.

Contact Daisy at

Lindsay Gess ’17

Lindsay will graduate this spring with a BA in English. Her connection to Memphis’ entrepreneurial sphere began with Start Co. She participated alongside the accelerator programs during the summer of 2016 and continued as an Associate at Start Co. in the Fall. Lindsay’s primary activities included networking, managing social media, and organizing events. 

She says that Rhodes prepared her well for the hard work essential to the entrepreneurial environment. Lindsay’s advice to current students applying to internships: “You have to be the one to make it happen for yourself and never stop”.

Message Lindsay on LinkedIn:

Claire Coulter ’15

Claire also interned at Start Co. during her junior and senior years. Using her background in chemistry, Claire participated in Start Co.’s Seed Hatchery Accelerator program, helping to develop the startup Preteckt. Claire is the Lead User Interface Developer at Preteckt, a startup which offers a predictive maintenance device for transportation vehicles.

Coulter credits Rhodes with giving her the tools to excel outside the classroom. She advises young professionals to “continually push yourself to grow- it is definitely necessary in the startup world”

Get in touch with at: and learn more about Claire’s start-up at

Rhodes’ current campaign suggests to “be essential,” and these women have truly become essential to the growth of the startup ecosystem in Memphis. To get involved with Start Co. visit, and to learn more about the growing startup trend in Tennessee visit Launch Tennessee’s website

Alumni Spotlight: Q&A with Josh Herwig SOMAVAC Medical Founder


Founders of SOMAVAC Josh Herwig and Dr. Esra Roan.

Founders of SOMAVAC Josh Herwig and Dr. Esra Roan.

Josh Herwig is a jack-of-all-trades with professional experience in machine design, electronics, and manufacturing. Herwig and co-founder Esra Roan- with over fifteen years experience in biomedical research- established SOMAVAC Medical Solutions Inc. to address ongoing issues experienced by patients recovering from major surgeries. SOMAVAC created an inconspicuous device to continually draw together tissue through suction. Their solution restores a patient’s dignity and allows for mobility while recuperating. Josh Herwig shares his incomparable experience in the 2016 Summer of Acceleration.


Q: Where did the idea for your business come from?

A: In our case, the clinical problem originated from a series of conversations that my co-founder, Dr. Esra Roan, and I had with several surgeons who we previously collaborated with in the academic setting. The real idea for a medical device then grew from a combination of that clinical problem and our in-depth interviews with patients experiencing problems recovering from major surgeries.

Q: What was your favorite or most impactful experience at Start Co.?

A: The most impactful experience at Start Co. was the initial programming we received. Both Dr. Esra Roan and I have technical backgrounds. So the business “boot camp” was invaluable in terms of getting us up to speed with what it means to really construct a sustainable business.

Q: What were your expectations coming into the Start Co. program and how did that change?

A: As an engineer, I can be pretty skeptical. I honestly expected the program to be filled with a lot of the fluff and hype that’s typically associated with the startup world. But Eric, Andre, Mara, and the other mentors, really created a succinct, focused program that was aimed at uncovering the core principles and drivers of a business.   

Q: If you were to sell another founder on why Start Co. and why Memphis what would you say?  

A: There are several important components to Start Co. that make it unique. The program is intense and hands-on. The folks who run the program and the mentors are constantly accessible and continually pushing founders to do the things necessary to test, understand, and grow their companies. You are put in contact with potential investors from day one; the program itself is really an interview for follow-up funding. Another unique feature of Start Co. is its location in Memphis, TN. Most of the country doesn’t look like New York or San Francisco. Memphis is much more indicative of the rest of the country and serves as an actual representative proving ground for customer discovery. Memphis is also extremely affordable. This means you have a much longer runway creating the potential for more pivots and product iterations. Also, people in Memphis are very accessible and genuinely interested in your success, which really helps when you’re stuck and need someone to guide your next move.

Q: How can people reach you?

A: Anybody can reach us personally at and They can also contact us through Facebook and Twitter at @SOMAVACMedical or through our website

Alumni Spotlight: Q&A with Sasha Kucharczyk, Preteckt Founder


Sasha Kucharczyk, Preteckt Founder

Sasha Kucharczyk, Preteckt Founder

Commercial trucking is one of the most used forms of cross-country product transportation. Sasha Kucharczyk and his team invented a device to ensure a smooth ride for companies and their drivers. The Preteckt device is a networked prediction service that connects into any truck. Data collected through sensors alert the driver of signs of machinery failure weeks or months in advance. Sasha Kucharczyk shares with us his beginnings and development journey with Start Co.’s Seed Hatchery Accelerator program.

Q: Where did the idea for your business come from?

A: The initial idea came from one of my co-founder’s experience in receiving maintenance.  However, our company has pivoted a few times since then. The current idea came from applying the idea we were working on before moving to Memphis with a market vertical we were introduced to after we joined the Start Co. accelerator.

Q: What was your favorite or most impactful experience at Start Co.?

A: The “your baby is ugly mentality”, which was stressed many times. That is to say, you need to accept that your first iterations of your product may not be market-ready. You need continuous feedback from your customers at all stages of development in order to ‘hit-the-mark’.

Q: What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

A: Get customer feedback, get it early, and iterate.

Q: What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

A: Going for growth too early. Growth is what makes a startup and it gets a lot of the attention. However, it can also be a major distraction if you are lacking good retention. Early on, we kept trying for growth before we hit product-market fit.  We would get customer interest, get them to try our product, and then the relationship would fizzle out. We experimented a bit to try and fix this problem but kept falling short. We have since come to the conclusion that we had been thinking about the problem incorrectly. The problem was not about how we were engaging and interacting with our customers, but characteristics of the product we were selling.  By removing features to a core set of features that strongly resonated with our customers, we were able to change the trajectory of our company and move back on the path to product-market fit.

Q: If you went to another program how was your experience different at Start Co.?

A: We have done a few programs. Where I found that Start Co. shines is that every team member at the accelerator is willing to go the extra mile and out of their way to help portfolio companies succeed.  That extends well beyond Demo Day.  We feel like we have a 24/7 hotline that we can call anytime we have a question or challenge.  Every one of them truly cares for us as individuals and for the success of our business.

Q: If you were to sell another founder on why Start Co. and why Memphis what would you say?  

A: Start Co. is an early-stage accelerator that will provide you with support to make your idea into an actual business.  Unlike many other accelerators out there, the hands-on help and support continues after Demo-day.

Q: How can people reach you?

A: Email Sasha Kucharczyk at and visit the website at


Interested in participating in Start Co.’s Summer Accelerator Program? Apply before Wednesday March 1, 2017 at

Alumni Spotlight: Q&A with Chelsea White, ProxBox Founder


Chelsea White Founder of ProxBox

Chelsea White Founder of ProxBox

ProxBox provides an array of tools to alleviate the pain realtors experience on a daily basis. Chelsea White and Bryan Barringer founded Proxbox to tackle common issues such as marketing listings, collecting feedback from interested buyers, and scheduling showings. One of the most notable features of Proxbox is the ability to provide information customizable by room for interested shoppers during an open house tour using sensors. Currently Proxbox is the only app on the market to assist agents in all aspects of their job. We sat down with Chelsea to discuss her journey through Start Co.’s Seed Hatchery Acceleration program.

Q: Where did the idea for your business come from?  

A: Traditionally, agents struggle to exchange listing information on demand. We provide a solution that actively markets listings onsite 24/7. Our solution brings homes to life by using beacons. Therefore enhancing the entire real estate experience. When we first started researching this technology in the real estate market we couldn’t find anything close to what we have currently designed. And even to this day competition is very low and isolated. Yet after hundreds of customers interviews, the demand for ProxBox is high.

Q: What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?

A: I start every day off with a checklist. I list five to ten item to complete by the end of my work day. As a growing startup, every minute counts and you want to make sure you are spending your time on things that help and growing your business.

Q: How do you bring ideas to life?

A: If you want to bring an idea to life make sure you do lots of research about your idea. Make sure there is a market or problem your idea can help or fix.

Q: What’s one trend that really excites you?


Q: What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

A: I read lots of books from other entrepreneurs and take notes. I apply those notes to my business. I have found the best way to grow as a person and leader is learning from others’ mistakes. Most of the time, it can save you lots of time and money.

Q: What advice would you give your younger self?

A: Do research about the product and market before you sell anything. Remember building something for everyone is like building something for no one.

Q: As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

A: Working out daily and eating healthy!

Q: What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

A: Team dynamics! My co-founder and I worked hard on building our team and business foundation. Early on we found out communication is key!

Q: What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

A: Losing a business. I started my first business at twenty-one years old. I was lucky it grew really fast and failed even faster. I made lots of mistakes; I had no idea how to run a business successfully. I knew I had a great idea but I had no business canvas or execution plan to put in place. I overcame it by learning from my mistakes. In my business now I research everything and assume nothing. I also make sure there is a positive return in every decision concerning the business and its growth.

Q: What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

A: New popcorn bucket for a movie theater to help the butter to salt ratio. That is all I’m saying.

Q: What was your favorite or most impactful experience at Start Co.?  

A: Start Co. picked our company to travel to San Francisco to meet with investors and to do more market validation. That was the first time I pitched to agents, sellers, and homes buyers outside of my city. It was amazing! It helped me grow as a salesperson so much. I will forever be grateful for that experience.

Q: What were your expectations coming into the Start Co. program and how did that change? A: We really didn’t know what to expect other than it was going to be a lot of hard work. Over the course of six months, we realized just how much work and dedication was involved. And the Start Co. team was with us the whole way. My co-founder and I are so happy we entered the Start Co. program it has helped our business grow to where it is now.

Q: How can people reach you?

A: Learn more about Proxbox at their website and contact Chelsea White at

Interested in participating in Start Co.’s Summer Accelerator Program? Apply before Wednesday March 1, 2017 at

Alumni Spotlight: Q&A with Sanja Zepan, Homey App Founder


Sanja Zepan & Saso Pompe founders of Homey developed through Start Co.'s Upstart accelerator program

Sanja Zepan & Saso Pompe, founders of the Homey app, developed their company through Start Co.’s Upstart accelerator program.

Inspired by living with housemates, Sanja Zepan created the mobile app, Homey, to simplify chore management. The Homey app motivates households to complete chores through its game-like design. Originally from Slovenia, Sanja and co-founder Saso Pompe participated in Start Co.’s Upstart summer accelerator program. Memphis was the ideal location to establish HomeyLabs since the majority of their users happen to live in the Mid South. Zepan shared with us her entrepreneurial experience with Start Co.

Q: Where did the idea for your business come from?

A: My co-founder and I lived together and had a chore chart on the wall that just wasn’t working. So we decided to make an app for it. We then got a lot of feedback from parents that they would love an app like this. We started doing interviews with parents and found out all about chore management, allowance tracking, and how parents use it to teach kids about the value of work and the basics of financial literacy.

Q: What was your favorite or most impactful experience at Start Co.?

A: My favorite experience was actually BBQ festival. We got to see how Start Co. is part of the community in Memphis. Start Co. brought all these entrepreneurs, investors and mentors to Memphis and fed them pulled pork in a tent with a view over the Mississippi River, and we were able to mingle and network in this incredible setting- it was amazing!  

Q: What were your expectations coming into the Start Co. program and how did that change?

A: We came from Slovenia to Memphis to meet southern parents, because they were our users. We are neither parents nor southern, so we needed to find out why our app appeals to them and what do we needed to do to make a business out of it. We were happy that customer discovery was one of Start Co.’s focuses and they were superb in helping us through this process.

Q: What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

A: Customer interviews, quick iterations, and a lot of testing.

Q: If you were looking at another accelerator, why did you choose Start Co.?

A: Mostly because of location- Memphis is a big city, with a lot of suburbs that fit our customer segment. We were also impressed with the interview we had and how our cohort leader contacted us and started making plans for us right away. We felt the personal touch that Start Co. brings and how they really get involved in your business.  

Q: If you went to another program how was your experience different at Start Co.?

A: Start Co. hit the sweet spot for where we were in our business progress. We needed exactly those lessons and mentors they provided. I believe it’s important to assess if an accelerator focuses on growth, selling, B2B, and product.

Q: If you were to sell another founder on why Start Co. and why Memphis what would you say?

A: The startup community in Memphis is young, but it is extremely well connected. Because of the small size of the community, everybody here is much more accessible and involved. So while for instance in San Francisco, you’re one of a hundred founders trying to get the attention of a mentor in just one week, in Memphis they actually have the time and energy to help you. This was incredibly important for us as foreigners, as we came here without any connections.  Memphis also has quite a few big companies and they too are eager to work with startups. Since the pool of startups in Memphis is small, you’ll have a great shot at landing a partnership.

Q: How can people reach you?

A: Connect with Homey through their website or via Sanja affirms that the team is “always happy to hear from our users, talk about possible partnerships, or advise anyone that’s walking the startup journey and thinks we might help in any way, so don’t hesitate to reach out!”


Interested in pursuing your entrepreneurial dreams? Apply before Wednesday March 1, 2017 at