Wilson Waller, CEO Building Box
Wilson Waller, founder of Building Box, is getting involved with STEM education on a worldwide scale. His vision is to provide computer focused learning to underprivileged youth all across the planet through the development of his unique style of portable classrooms.
Talk about yourself and building box.
My name is Wilson Waller. I’m 25 years old, born in Memphis, TN, and the founder of Building Box. Building Box is company that designs and distributes portable STEM classrooms and Makerspaces within shipping containers. The containers are pre-fitted with everything a student needs to learn a variety of computer and engineering skills. Unlike normal portable classrooms, these boxes are highly cost efficient and can be easily shipped anywhere in world, meaning they can provide computer access, internet access, and education to those living in rural and underprivileged area.
What made you start building box?
Three and a half years ago, I moved to India to work with a non-profit. The Himalayan village had a lot of children who were interested in computers, but most had little access to electricity, internet, and computer hardware. I wanted to find a way for kids in similar situations to be able to work with computers and learn skills like coding and digital design, even when they are in such disconnected locations. I came up with the idea of creating classrooms in shipping containers, one of the most scalable and cost feasible way to provide portable learning environments on such a large scale, and so Building Box was born. After working with several engineers and nonprofits, the first classroom was created in the Himalayas.
How did you get involved with Start Co.?
My journey with Start Co. began in February of 2017 when I participated in the 48hr Hack-A-Thon event sponsored by Start Co. I pitched the concept and over the weekend I worked with some amazing people to create a business plan for Building Box. Afterwards, I applied for the summer accelerator program for social innovation at Start Co. called Sky High. The program has been amazing and has helped me narrow down a business plan and build strategic relationships around Memphis and the country. The leadership and mentoring from Andre Fowlkes, President of Start Co., has been eye-opening. Alongside Start Co., other foundations have supported me in the creation of our first box in the United States of America, currently sitting downtown by the Mississippi River.
What do you hope to have accomplished by the end of the year?
By the end of 2017, my goal is to have five accessible boxes across Memphis. After that, we will start working to send boxes all over the United States and the planet. These classrooms are not exclusive to a single area, they can benefit a lot of people and, due to their design, be accessible nearly anywhere.
What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t working as an entrepreneur?
If I wasn’t working as an entrepreneur, I am not quite sure what I would do. I’ve been starting businesses of my own since I was in college, so working with this kind of independence is all I’ve known. I love to travel and be outdoors so maybe I’d explore the world and become a writer.
What is the best advice you’ve been given?
Having a positive outlook and genuine concern for those around you and in your community can take you far. I believe that if you have the drive to create something great without the need for validation, you can get anywhere you want in life.
What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
I love to canoe and spend time with my friends and family. I’ve always liked being outdoors and staying active. Right now, I am having fun working with Start Co. and growing my business. I am extremely lucky for the opportunity Eric and Andre have given me with the accelerator program, so there is nothing I would rather be doing than developing Building Box, except maybe building 100 Boxes to send around the world.
BuildingBox.org • Facebook • Twitter • LinkedIn
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, 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.
SILQ-EDU • Facebook • Twitter
Maurrean Barger envisions an internationally-recognized online career development platform which allows working-class professionals to demonstrate and promote their professional careers. This mission is materializing through her work as Founder and CEO of Alwaz.Pro.
Q: Tell me about yourself.
A: I’m Maurrean Barger, born and raised in Memphis, TN. I graduated from the University of Memphis with a degree in communications and graphic design. I have bought and sold media in Memphis for a long time.
Maurrean Barger, Founder and CEO of Alwaz.Pro
Q: What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
A: Being a marketing consultant, I have worked for entrepreneurs and respect what they do: for putting everything on the line and having the ambition to take action instead of playing it safe. I admire the inspiration they have. For me, making that conversion was a pretty big deal. I have found a product, a hole in the market, and my passion.
Q: What led you to create Alwaz.Pro?
A: There is a host of [working class] people who are not being served. I think it’s unjust that when the internet was formed, somehow, we decided that if you are this class of person with a bachelor’s degree or higher, you can have those [professional] recommendations that follow you, but for those that don’t, those [professional] recommendations go to the employer, and I think that is unjust. The people who aren’t being served are the very backbone of our American economy and society.
Q: How has the Upstart Accelerator at Start Co. provided Alwaz.Pro a competitive edge?
A: The name Start Co. has a power and brand prestige to it. When I say I’m a member of the Start Co. accelerator program, that gets me instant clout with people.
Q: What is the most valuable thing you have learned in the program thus far?
A: How to cut out the clutter. How to communicate on point to the people I am speaking with.
Q: What are the challenges of running a startup? Perks?
A: The challenges are in a lot of ways the same as the perks– you are making your own future. You are forging your own path, which is scary. You can go to the zoo on a Friday afternoon but may be up until 2 AM that night working. It’s a matter of choosing your own destiny and what mark you’re going to leave on the world, on your kids, and on your family.
Q: Describe your leadership style.
A: I like being direct and straightforward. If I ask you to do something, I expect you to come back and tell me you got it done, why you did not get it done, or what your obstacles are so that you can get it done. I think it’s about working together and empowering people to perform the job and tasks in front of them.
Q: 90% of startups fail. What makes you the 10%?
A: I know that the 90% is not in my favor, but I can’t worry about odds. If I cared about odds, I wouldn’t be here. Everything is right for my product to take off and influence other people’s lives. Alwaz.Pro isn’t about me, it is about the people who are the heroes of our lives-those that take care of our parents while we work or protect us while at a ball game. These are the heroes. They need recognition and respect. That’s what Alwaz.Pro is about.
Q: Where do you see Alwaz.Pro in a year?
A: I think the platform will be much larger and stronger in the future. I want more people to know and use my product.
Q: What advice would you offer to an aspiring entrepreneur?
A: Make sure you have a support system that is willing to make sacrifices. Their sacrifice will be supporting you unconditionally while knowing that you won’t always be available to them. Also, don’t forget to workout. Block off time to stay active.
Q: Last question: What book are you reading right now?
A: Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares.
Maurrean Barger is CEO and Founder of Alwaz.Pro, an online career development platform for working-class professionals.
AlwazPro • LinkedIn • Twitter
Thomas Griffin, CEO and Founder of ArtSquare
Thomas Griffin, CEO and founder of ArtSquare has a passion for art. Having begun his entrepreneurial career in Silicon Valley, he has transplanted his company to Memphis. As a member in the Seed Hatchery Accelerator at Start Co. Thomas’ goal is to revolutionize and transform the art e-commerce business through his online art portfolio manager.
Q: Tell me about yourself.
A: My name is Thomas Griffin. I am the CEO and founder of ArtSquare. I grew up just outside of Austin, Texas. I went to Abilene Christian University and got a bachelor’s degree in business marketing. Then I moved out to Silicon Valley for a couple of years to work in tech and startups before relocating to Nashville, where I lived for two and a half years before moving to Memphis.
Q: What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
A: When I was a little kid I would always tinker in my stepdad’s shop. I would take things apart, put them back together to understand how all the pieces worked. I always wanted to be an inventor. It was in college that I realized that my interest in inventing didn’t necessarily have to be tangible products – it could be software. It was putting one foot in front of the other and realizing which fields or industries were most ripe for my interests and skills.
Q: What led you to create ArtSquare?
A: My senior year of college I was buying art from China to resell in the US. Eventually, I began partnering with artists at my university to sell their art to alumni without me making the investment of purchasing the art outright. As I was solving those problems I stumbled upon more systemic challenges that are innate within the existing industry. We first started providing professional photography services for artists – as the art world shifts online, there is more reliance on having digital assets that reflect your physical inventory. I spent a year and a half doing that and it was a very difficult problem to solve. We started to look at additional ways to deliver value. This led us to the integration services that we are currently focused on.
Q: How did you end up in the Seed Hatchery Accelerator at Start Co?
A: I had raised some money from investors in Texas with the idea to work in the art market. The team has always been remote. We hired a developer out of Silicon Valley and he subsequently moved to Prague. I was watching this migration of talent outside of Silicon Valley superimposed on a remote first culture. That made me realize we could save a ton of money and still have access to the same amount of resources by living outside of Silicon Valley. I got the mindshare, thought leadership, and the connections that I had wanted to have and made the decision to mitigate against a lot of the high amount of burn startups experience out there.
Q: How has the accelerator experience provided ArtSquare with a competitive edge?
A: The value of the accelerator to me has been the genuine network. Many times, people are enthusiastic to mention introductions they can make on your behalf and those don’t necessarily materialize. Being in Memphis, within an accelerator where everyone has a vested interest in our success, there is proactivity in making those introductions and connections. I have an armada of intelligent, well-connected people that take steps to connect me to people I should be connected to. That delivers a serious competitive advantage over what I would be able to do myself.
Q: How does your team work through difficulties or problems?
A: My favorite thing about our team is that we are resilient. Along the way, there have been massive mountains of challenges. We’ve always been good at being optimistic about the potential upside, being creative, problem-solving, and covering our overhead. There is a collaborative spirit to the problem-solving. Collectively, we have respect for maintaining enthusiasm. There is a shared culture around it that helps make problems seem less intimidating.
Q: Where do you see ArtSquare in a year?
A: It’s my hope that we have integration partners with dozens, if not hundreds of different platforms. We are beginning to collect data that allows us a novel insight into the industry. I hope we can leverage that insight to help bring stability to artists in their careers. I think it is possible to make recommendations upon the industry itself based on what we have been paying attention to.
Q: What advice would you offer to an aspiring entrepreneur?
A: Get over the illusion of entrepreneurship. Yes, there are parts that are glamorous, but it is far more important to understand who you are and know what you want and what makes you come alive. Build a business around yourself in that way. The strongest signal in terms of success and sustainability for an entrepreneur is if [your idea] aligns with something people want to see created in the world. Far too often that’s not the case.
Q: I have a fun question now: Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?
A: One horse-sized duck. I couldn’t anticipate that it would be overly agile. I would be able to out maneuver it and slowly wear it out – a war of attrition.
Thomas Griffin is CEO and Founder of ArtSquare, an online art portfolio manager.
www.artsquare.com • Instagram • Facebook • Twitter
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.
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: https://www.signetsealed.com
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 https://www.linkedin.com/in/daisy-laird
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: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lindsay-gess
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: firstname.lastname@example.org and learn more about Claire’s start-up at http://www.preteckt.com
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 neverstop.co, and to learn more about the growing startup trend in Tennessee visit Launch Tennessee’s website http://launchtn.org