Four Athens hosted its fifth Startup Stories event this Fall on Thursday September 29th. The evening brought special guest Paul Ollinger, early stage Facebook employee, comedian, and author to Live Wire downtown, along with two local founders and entrepreneurs, to share their startup experiences with the Athens community.
Athens artist and public art advocate Broderick Flanigan of Flanigan Portrait Studios, also the Assistant Director of favorite local youth program Chess & Community, emceed the evening. He opened the event by describing his love of the diverse cultures in Classic City, and an appreciation for events like the Startup Stories speaker series that bring broad audiences together for the common goals of sharing in the human experience and supporting independent business in Athens.
The first story of startup entrepreneurship came from UGA student and Idea Accelerator participant Kristi Frank. She spoke of her interest in entrepreneurship from childhood, and her inspiration from courses in the UGA Terry Entrepreneurship Program to pursue a product idea born from “a night of drinking wine with friends and coming up with problems to solve.” Ultimately her startup Clutch Creations went in a different direction, mostly as a result of Frank’s direct experience attending music festivals (over 25 festivals this year!) wearing clothes without pockets, and solving the problem of where to keep her phone with an old camera strap.
After gaining much attention for her contraption at the Hulaween! festival in Suwanne, Florida-- where she was able to keep her camera close while wearing a costume in the heat all weekend-- Frank busted out her own prototype, entered the Idea Accelerator with a co-founder, and the Clutch Strap was born. She emphasized the encouragement and support of the UGA Entrepreneurship Program, the Four Athens community, and her fellow students as reasons she moved forward with her idea. While finishing her undergraduate degree this semester and getting her startup company Clutch Creations off the ground, Frank also serves as the current president of the Society of Entrepreneurs student organization at UGA.
Ty Frix, former UGA football long snapper and Biomedical Engineering major, spoke next about his journey to entrepreneurship that led to founding his health tech startup, Ichor. Frix began his story with a familiar quote: What would you do if you were not afraid? and expanded on the question by asking who among the audience considered themselves “a creative.” Leading listeners through his childhood love of engineering with Legos, adolescent dreams of being the star quarterback in high school, to discovering long snapping, Frix then shared the fateful moment when a teammate took a heavy hit on the gridiron (with film footage of the wallop) that inspired his original heart rate and pulsox monitoring device. He founded Ichor originally to manufacture the wearable fitness monitoring device, and was in a second round of prototyping when, as he put it, “Fitbit happened.” He went on to emphasize the importance of thinking creatively, focusing on passion rather than fear, and recognizing when to pivot, both in life and in business, as key factors for surviving the entrepreneurship experience.
Ichor now uses Fitbit technology to generate fitness and wellness data the company helps people learn how to use-- for coaches tracking the health of their teams, trainers measuring performance results for clients, and residential facilities monitoring the overall wellness of their elderly patients. Frix ended his story by encouraging everyone in the audience, budding entrepreneur or not, to remember the natural creativity and curiosity of childhood, and to apply that mindset to the present in order to imagine what might be possible if fear were not a factor.
The keynote of the evening was Paul Ollinger, who missed no chances to poke fun at the stereotype of tech startup success. Ollinger shared his story of what happens “After the Exit” from his point of view as an early Facebook Vice President of Sales, who left the company with the means to “retire by 40”. With irreverent humor, he described how he soon discovered “retired = dead,” with no shortage of graphic slides to emphasize the point. Ollinger assured the audience that the phrase “it’s not about the money,” is only true for people who have money, and that obviously there are bills to pay and promises to keep for people in the real world. That said, he also encouraged the audience to find a passion, a meaning and purpose of some kind, to fuel the pursuit of both personal and financial fulfillment. For Ollinger, that meant pursuing his love of comedy and risking failure at the age of 47 to become a full time standup comedian. He also finished his first book in April of this year, You Should Totally Get an MBA: A Comedian’s Guide to Top U.S. Business Schools, endeavoring to publish and distribute it on his own.
Ollinger had the Live Wire crowd laughing and reflecting, in keeping to the emerging themes of the evening: imagining possibilities; determining the calculated risk of taking a different path; and being prepared to fail. After taking a few questions from the audience, Ollinger ended his time by proclaiming his fondness for Athens as a place he looks forward to visiting again, as both a reveler and entertainer.
Broderick Flanigan closed the program by sharing a few thoughts on the night’s stories, along with some anecdotes of his own entrepreneurial challenges as an independent artist. His final note was a helpful reminder to everyone in the audience to consider their passion, know when to ask for help, and to support one another.
Keynote Paul Ollinger lingered for a short time afterward, speaking individually with small groups of attendees, and selling and signing several books.
Four Athens Startup Stories speaker series is a unique event designed to bring true stories of entrepreneurship and startup experiences to the Athens community directly from real sources. Our last Startup Stories event was held earlier this year at the Hotel Indigo’s Rialto Club, and featured stories by Athens-based business leader Chris Herron, CEO of Creature Comforts Brewery Company, and Shayna Hobbs, co-founder of local artisanal carpentry company Sons of Sawdust. Read more about that event here. Previous Startup Stories speakers have included founders, CEOs, and UGA Alumni from companies such as Deadspin.com, Cogent Education, EvoShield, DanceFX, Scoutmob, Insightpool, and Yik Yak, among others.
It is a privilege for us to coordinate this ongoing storytelling event for our community, and we sincerely thank everyone involved-- our speakers who give generously of their time, the amazing staff at Live Wire, and the excellent audience on Thursday night, for making Startup Stories V such an inspirational and successful experience.
We will see y’all in Spring 2017 for Startup Stories VI!