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
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 email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also contact us through Facebook and Twitter at @SOMAVACMedical or through our website www.somavac.com
Thanks to everyone who submitted their 90-second video in Start Co.’s Pre-Seed Pitch Competition. There were tons of great ideas and we encourage everyone to continue working on and building their startups. We had 5 different prizes and are excited to announce the winners:
1st Place: FastApp from Memphis, TN
Check out their pitch:
Most Creative: Truck Driver Power from St. Louis, MO
Solving the Biggest Problem: Fast App from Memphis, TN
Strongest Team: Flock United from Memphis, TN
Most Enthusiastic Presentation: Flock United from Memphis, TN
Also, we’re accepting accelerator applications through today, March 1st so apply now! Click here for more information or reach out to us at email@example.com.