Over a year after opening its doors, the Crews Center for Entrepreneurship is delivering on its mission, developing a community of young innovators who are equipped with the education and experience to convert ideas into startups and pitches into capital.
It seems the Crews Center for Entrepreneurship
's vision is becoming a reality, at least for one student entrepreneur.
Morgan Steffy, a University of Memphis
computer science student, recently secured $135,000 in initial funding for her start-up business, most of it from Wolf River Angels
, the angel investor arm of Memphis-based start-up accelerator program Start Co
. Steffy is an Entrepreneurship Fellow at the Crews Center for Entrepreneurship
, the on-campus think tank where students can explore entrepreneurial ideas and businesses. Her start-up business is a photo app called Pickle
that allows users to compete against each other for things like “best dog selfie,” “messiest car,” or “most disheveled morning face.”
Steffy teamed up with Rhodes College
student Evan Katz to create Pickle, which was launched in May of last year. Originally they were focused on building a “what to wear” app for users to receive opinions on their outfits from other users. That idea evolved into the competitive photo app that Pickle is today when Steffy realized users preferred to upload photos of their faces instead.
The Fellows Program was introduced to Steffy by Mike Hoffmeyer, director of the Crews Center. They met during her time in local tech accelerator program, Start Co. “It's been a very helpful way to balance school work and running a business. I've learned an incredible amount about the industry and myself in the process,” said Steffy.
The Pickle app lets users compete for est selfies
Following years of fundraising and planning, the Crews Center for Entrepreneurship opened in late 2013 with a mission to nurture entrepreneurship and help people transform ideas into scalable companies. The facility offers building individual and shared work spaces for student and faculty entrepreneurs, as well as a prototype shop and product-design lab. Workshops and entrepreneurial programs are held at the site, along with one-on-one mentoring and counseling services for new entrepreneurs. With the innovative co-working space for aspiring entrepreneurs or current start-ups, the Center was the perfect space for the FedEx Institute of Technology to place their Entrepreneurship Fellows program.
Six University of Memphis juniors were selected to complete a two-year start-up accelerator for their businesses, and Steffy is a member of the inaugural class. The Fellowship not only offers the selected students a location to serve as a base for their business and tools to achieve their goals, it also provides a stipend so they do not have to worry about finances while creating their start-ups. Those aren’t the only benefits of the fellowship, according to Steffy.
“The fellowship provides a huge amount of mentorship and connections along with a great sense of community among the other fellows in the program. Having other people by your side as you go through the struggles of starting a business is invaluable," she said.
The growth process for Pickle has not been an easy one, Steffy and Katz worked hard to create a product that was right for their audience. “At the start, I thought one could simply build an app and people would use it. Unfortunately, it's not that easy. Creating something that people like is one thing, but creating something that people use every day and tell their friends about is quite another,” said Steffy.
They chose to launch Pickle in Memphis because the city is so accessible to new entrepreneurs and start-ups. According to Steffy they plan to stay in Memphis for the foreseeable future because they feel very plugged into the community.
Along with the $135,000 in initial funding, Steffy also recently won $1,000 in an elevator pitch competition in Jonesboro called G60 (Gone in 60 Seconds) where she had 60 seconds to pitch Pickle. This funding will aid in the growth of Pickle’s user base. Looking to the future, the Pickle team set a goal of having 100,000 active weekly users along with brand sponsored contests in the app.