Spotlight on 2020 Bulldog 100 business: Agora Vintage

Airee Edwards (AB ’99) wasn’t sure what she wanted to do when she graduated from UGA with a bachelor’s in fabric design, but she knew she wanted to stay in Athens.

So she looked for a business opening, asking herself what was missing, what did Athens not have?

The answer: an open market where anyone could sell their vintage furniture, handcrafted items, art, or whatever, really.

Open Marketplace

“I went to what seemed like every bank in Athens, and I heard a lot of no’s,” Edwards says. But with savings from waiting tables and taking money off the house she’d bought, “a risky move” as she describes it, Edwards convinced a local bank to lend her what she needed to open Agora in 2002. (Agora means “open marketplace” in Greek.)

The only problem? Edwards didn’t have a business degree. But growing up, she’d followed her mother from one craft fair to the next, selling tissue box holders they fashioned from vintage fabrics. That early exposure to entrepreneurship stuck with her.

So she learned as she went, eventually outgrowing the little shop at the corner of Clayton and Pulaski. Sellers had also begun bringing in higher-end items, including women’s clothing and accessories, and Edwards’ husband, attorney and Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Russell Edwards (JD ’10), suggested she move the fashion items to a new store a few blocks away on Broad Street, right across from North Campus.

For a while, the Edwards family headed both stores, an exhausting but incredibly rewarding job. But she eventually decided to focus on one of her first loves—fashion—and grow the now iconic vintage fashion store on Broad, selling the furniture store that would become Atomic Vintage.

When you walk into the recently renovated Agora Vintage, you see an Art Deco-inspired cabinet lined with bags from Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Hermès, just to name a few. But there are also less expensive, gently used Coach, Tory Burch, and Marc by Marc Jacobs bags toward the back of the store. The counter display is full of beautiful, estate jewelry.

To the left, rows of vintage and modern clothes, all marked significantly below retail. Designer shoes are toward the back.

Honored Bulldog Business

But what makes Agora Vintage stand out is Edwards herself. She’s almost always in the store, greeting customers, suggesting items she knows they have to have, and tracking down pieces they’ve inquired about. It’s that attention to detail that has landed Agora several times on the Bulldog 100, which lists the fastest-growing businesses owned or operated by UGA alumni. Agora Vintage has made the list an outstanding six times in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2020.

But she never forgets the place that made it all possible, regularly speaking in classes at UGA and supporting the Georgia Museum of Art.

“I tell them the whole story about how I couldn’t get a loan and was eating potato chips for a year, thought I was going to get scurvy,” Edwards says. “I now own a business that allows me to live securely and enjoy some success. UGA helped me build that.”

 

This story was originally published in Georgia Magazine. 

UGA alumnus awarded Schwarzman Scholarship

This story was written by Stephanie Schupska and originally ran on UGA Today on December 4, 2019.

University of Georgia alumnus Shaun Kleber (AB ’16, AB ’16, AB ’16) was one of 148 candidates selected internationally as a Schwarzman Scholar, a graduate fellowship designed to prepare the next generation of leaders with an understanding of China’s role in global trends.

Kleber is UGA’s fifth Schwarzman Scholar. The incoming Class of 2021 was narrowed down from a pool of more than 4,700 candidates from China, the U.S. and around the world. It includes students from 41 countries and 108 universities.

Five classes of Schwarzman Scholars have been named since the highly competitive program opened to applicants in 2015. The fully funded, yearlong master’s program in global affairs is offered at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Students live and learn on the Schwarzman College campus and focus their studies on public policy, economics and business, or international studies.

“I am delighted that Shaun has received this prestigious recognition,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “The University of Georgia’s record of success in this international competition is evidence of the outstanding education we provide to our students and how well we prepare them for success beyond graduation.”

Kleber graduated from UGA in 2016 with bachelor’s degrees in international affairs, political science and economics. A Foundation Fellow and Honors Program alumnus, he spent two years with McKinsey & Company as a business analyst before transitioning to work with City Year, an AmeriCorps program, through which he served as a student success coach in Detroit. He is now a team leader with City Year in Boston and supervises student success coaches at UP Academy Boston, developing tailored strategies for student achievement.

After he completes his year as a Schwarzman Scholar, Kleber will attend Harvard Law School. He plans to pursue a career in education policy and public education administration.

“I met Shaun when he was in high school, and I enjoyed getting the chance to work closely with him while he was a student at UGA,” said David S. Williams, associate provost and director of the Honors Program. “It has been clear all along that he is destined to make a very positive impact on society.”

Kleber’s focus is on education, leadership and policy, with the goal of becoming a national leader in public education. In his time with City Year and in his internship while in college with the superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, he confronted issues such as intergenerational poverty, segregated neighborhoods and insufficient access to basic resources.

Currently, he is working to unlock the potential of individuals through education, he said, before ultimately working to unlock the potential of the American South through both public education and public policy.

“The Schwarzman Scholars program prepares and connects future global leaders, and that makes it the perfect fit for Shaun,” said Jessica Hunt, UGA’s major scholarships coordinator. “He made a profound impact on our campus as an undergraduate, and he has already demonstrated a remarkable commitment to building community in Detroit, Atlanta and Boston. He will no doubt do the same during his year in Beijing as a Schwarzman Scholar.”

UGA’s previous Schwarzman Scholars are UGA alumni Torre Lavelle (BS ’16), Elizabeth Hardister (AB ’18, MPH ’18) and Gabrielle Pierre (BSENVE ’17, MEPD ’18) and Swapnil Agrawal (AB ’19, AB ’19).

For more information on Schwarzman Scholars, visit www.schwarzmanscholars.org.

An Interview with Sally Williamson (ABJ ’83)

Sally Williamson

Sally Williamson, Founder and CEO of Sally Williamson & Associates

Sally Williamson (ABJ ’83) has made a name for herself in the communication business.

With 30 years of experience to her name, Sally is the founder and president of the Atlanta-based Sally Williamson & Associates. Focusing on the spoken side of communication, the company is approaching 20 years of executive coaching, consulting, workshops and more to create effective workplace communicators.

The company has published three books that detail her practices’ beliefs: The Hidden Factor: Executive Presence, Leading Executive Conversations, and Storylines and Storytelling: What They Remember and Repeat.  The group has also started a podcast that features female leaders across the business world, with stories from executives at companies like Delta and TD Bank.

Alumni Association: How would you describe your business to someone who is unfamiliar with it?

Sally Williamson: We’re a communication consulting group that helps people influence and impact others through effective communication practices.

AA: How did you get into consulting like this?

SW: I was a journalism school graduate. I was intrigued by messaging in business and thought that I would start out on a public relations track. Instead, I got closer to the communicators and learned the foundational skills of personal delivery and presence.  That’s oversimplifying it, but eventually I brought the two concepts together in executive coaching.

AA: What inspired you to create your own business?

SW: I worked in the training field and saw both the strengths and limitations of a set curriculum.  I was always more intrigued by how people used skills once they left a training program versus how well they did in a workshop. And, I learned that most training formats were weak on the application of skills. I saw an opportunity to blend training with coaching and ensure that skills are applicable in any business setting.

And, that’s what my firm is known for: the customization of training, the added coaching elements and the expertise to understand and solve for the expectations of listeners.

AA: What inspired the start of your podcast?

Sally Williamson

What’s Your Story with Sally Williamson is a podcast that centers on leadership and storytelling.

SW: Two years ago, we released our third book which is called “Storylines and Storytelling: What They Remember and Repeat.” For two years, I did research on how stories are used in business and the skills of a good storyteller. I coined the phrase “the master storyteller” and developed the tools to help anyone become one.

The podcast was a natural outgrowth of that. It’s called “What’s Your Story,” and people who come on the podcast talk about stories in business and how they use stories to make points memorable and repeatable.

AA: Any favorite episodes?

SW: All of them! Don’t want to play favorites. What I love about it is that when we send people an outline for the podcast, they think they’re going to talk about their stories in their business and how they’ve leveraged storytelling to motivate a team, promote a product or position a brand. Ultimately, they reveal themselves as storytellers. And, that’s fun to explore. We’re asking leaders to talk about stories, but they actually illustrate their skills as storyteller.

AA: How do you think your time at UGA impacted your career?

SW: I’m sure my early days relied on technical skills to learn writing disciplines and headlines. But the more long-term impact has been the connection back to the school as a professional. I’ve enjoyed being a part of the Bulldog 100 program for small businesses, and love the opportunities to go back on campus to support programs around professional development.

AA: What advice would you give to a student looking for their first job in the communications field?

SW: Make sure that what you tackle first is experience more than stature. Don’t worry so much about the prestige of the brand you go to work for, or the starting title or role they give you. Put yourself in a position where you can get as much experience as you can and a frontline view of what is really happening around you. It’s the experience you get in the first job that gets you to the second or the third one. I think that’s especially true in public relations and communications – if you can show that you’ve done the work, rather than just been around the work, it makes a huge difference in what you have an opportunity to do next. People in public relations and communications get hired based on experience. What have you done? What do you know how to do?

AA: What are you most proud of, or what has your greatest success been?

SW: There have been many just as there have been many challenges. Success to me is based on how the business has evolved. We’ve been able to take what started as my thoughts and beliefs and grow it into a shared set of tools and skills that a team leverages. I’m proud of that, and that SW&A has become a place where others have developed an expertise and deliver great work. In the last three years, my son has joined the business and that suggests that our product and our work will outlive me.

Employee engagement a key to success, says nonprofit leader

This story was originally posted to the UGA School of Social Work website on Oct. 24, 2019, and was written by Adelia Henderson.

When it comes to running a successful organization, concepts like determination and loyalty often come to mind. But sometimes, a key to success can be something as small as switching out flooring.

Pamela Landwirth (AB ’73), found this out during the bi-annual ‘Cookies and Conversation’ meetings she holds with her staff at Give Kids the World Village, a nonprofit retreat in central Florida for children with critical illnesses and their families.

Landwirth, president and CEO of the organization, spoke about nonprofit leadership and management on Oct. 11 at Studio 225, the new University of Georgia Student Center for Entrepreneurship. The event was sponsored by the UGA School of Social Work. She said when she first started at Give Kids the World Village in 1992, there were only 32 villas and less than 40 employees, so interaction with all the employees was easy.

However, as the Village began to grow, Landwirth said she started “Cookies and Conversation” to stay engaged with employees on that micro level.

“Money is not a motivator,” she said. “But when you ask a housekeeper how you can make their job easier, and they say ‘take out the carpet’, and you put in tile, that’s when you get them more engaged.”

“They feel like you value them; you’re listening to them, and you’re doing something about it.”

Currently, Give Kids the World Village has 166 villas and more than 7,000 families that visit each year from 76 different countries. In Landwirth’s new book, “On Purpose: How Engagement Drives Success,” she outlines how practicing engagement is a key component to maintaining a successful organization.

“The beauty of engagement is that it doesn’t cost any money. It’s not the big parties, it’s not going out and giving raises,” Landwirth said. “Engagement boils down to leadership. There are very few things that have the impact that leadership does.”

Prior to working at Give Kids the World Village, Landwirth spent 16 years with the Walt Disney Company, working in various areas such as casting, attractions sales and park operations. She was then a consultant to the president and CEO of Hard Rock Café.

Give Kids the World Village provides children with life-threatening illnesses and their families a cost-free, week-long vacation to enjoy Orlando’s theme parks. Of each dollar they spend, about 93.1 cents goes directly to programs for the families such as accommodations, meals, tickets and transportation.

Landwirth said she employs a certain formula at the Village in order to maximize success.

“Quality staff experience, plus quality guest experience, plus quality stakeholder experience, plus quality business practices is what we have to focus on for success,” she said. “If any of those legs on the stool are not in sync, the whole thing will fall apart.”

Landwirth advised students interested in the nonprofit sector to take as many business classes as possible, to gain experience that will help them succeed when partnering with corporations, as when Landwirth spearheaded a partnership with the company Hasbro that brought the world’s largest game of Candyland to Give Kids the World Village.

She believes that, in a time where differences tend to pull people apart, it is vital for businesses to appreciate their employees for who they are and give them the resources needed to develop their individual gifts.

“Imagine if you worked for a company that not only helped you define your gifts, but then gave you outlets internally and externally to give those gifts away, how much more engagement we would have in the world,” Landwirth said.

“Our staff and volunteers come together for a common purpose because they want to be a part of something bigger,” she said.

“That’s what I’m hoping the book and discussions like this will do, to help us focus on those things that pull us together, and less on the things that pull us apart.”

Finding a home as a first-generation student

Written by Jasmin Severino Hernandez (AB ’13, AB ’13), UGA Young Alumni Leadership Council Outreach Chair

I transferred to the University of Georgia in 2010, with no idea how the transition would work. I came from a small liberal arts college, where I felt like I was a big fish in a little pond. At UGA, I felt quite the opposite. I felt like the world was my oyster, but I also felt lost in the sea of people. As a first-generation student, it felt lonely because I was immersed in a new experience with no idea how to navigate it all. I graduated from UGA in 2013, with a degree in political science from SPIA & another in Spanish from Franklin.

I have amazing memories from UGA.

The first was when my roommate convinced me that pageants could teach me how to be confident in myself. With her help, I competed in various pageants throughout undergrad. My greatest memories are from competing in Miss UGA in 2012 and 2013. I was a runner-up in the 2013 competition and it is a moment I will never forget. My mic went out during my talent routine and the audience only heard the last 30 seconds of my song … ironically where I had to sing the highest note. I received a standing ovation before the judges made me do it all over again!

“Some of our greatest memories involve our similar journeys as first-generation students trying to find a home, a voice, and ourselves in a new and unfamiliar place.”

In 2013, I also found my home away from home. I became a sister of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Incorporated, which is an academic sorority. The Delta Alpha Chapter of LTA helped me grow into the professional I am today. The sisters embraced me at a time when I needed support. They taught me the value of hard work and inspired me to always believe in myself and to embrace life’s unexpected twists and turns. I am still very involved with my sorority and I enjoy seeing how our sorority changes the lives of other first-generation Latinas at universities across the country.

Lastly, UGA introduced me to the love of my life. While at UGA, I met a boy who I am lucky enough to now call my husband. For an entire semester, we would casually run into each other on North Campus. One day, we finally spoke, and the rest is history. We took our engagement photos on North Campus, as a sweet nod to the place that sealed our fate. We were married on homecoming day this year, October 19, 2019, and we still enjoy calling the Dawgs on Saturdays. Some of our greatest memories involve UGA and our similar journeys as first-generation students trying to find a home, a voice, and ourselves in a new and unfamiliar place.

Today, I serve as the Outreach Committee Chair for the UGA Young Alumni Leadership Council because I truly believe that although my time at UGA was challenging in many ways, it also helped me grow immensely. I am very thankful for it all.

Somewhere along the way, UGA gave me everything I needed. Somewhere along the way, I found a home.

Featured image above by Claire Diana Photography

Bob Sleppy of Nuci's Space, Athens GA UGA

Bob Sleppy (BS ’05, MBA ’10) makes a difference at Nuçi’s Space

Bob Sleppy (BS ’05, MBA ’10) is the executive director of Nuçi’s Space, an Athens, Georgia, nonprofit that allows musicians to meet with doctors about physical and/or mental health issues.

For World Mental Health Day today (October 10), we asked Bob to share a little about Nuçi’s Space, his UGA experience, and how attitudes toward mental health issues have evolved over the two decades since Nuçi’s Space first opened its doors.

How does Nuçi’s Space serve the Athens community?

Nuçi’s Space was created in memory of 22-year-old UGA student and talented musician, Nuçi Phillips, who was diagnosed with clinical depression in high school. Although he fought courageously, Nuçi sadly lost his battle, and on Thanksgiving Day 1996, he ended his life.

Nuci Phillips

Nuçi Phillips

Nuçi’s Space is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to prevent suicide by actively supporting the emotional, physical, and professional well-being of musicians. Nuçi’s Space advocates for and helps to alleviate the suffering of those living with a brain illness while also fighting to end the stigma attached to such illnesses. To accomplish this mission, Nuçi’s Space provides a healthy, safe environment in which musicians are supported and guided to affordable, obstacle-free appropriate professional care. While appropriate treatment of brain illnesses is crucial, Nuçi’s Space also recognizes and strives to heighten awareness in order to help to identify preventive tools, including how individuals can maintain healthy lifestyles.

Since its inception, Nuçis’ Space has financially assisted 2,000+ musicians, subsidized 23,000+ appointments with mental health professionals, at a cost of over $1.2 million.

Nuci's Space, an Athens, GA nonprofit

Nuçi’s Space

Describe your biggest challenge as executive director of Nuçi’s Space.

I don’t know if there is just one challenge that stands out from the others. The challenge is finding balance among all the roles and responsibilities that come with the job. I’ve found that the best way to overcome this challenge is to hire great people and lean on them to help navigate the daily ups-and-downs of managing a nonprofit organization.

How does Nuçi’s Space collaborate with UGA?

Our collaboration with UGA and its students is almost too extensive to share in its entirety. In addition to the students who volunteer with us, we regularly work with the Music Business Program, AU/UGA Medical Partnership, Institute for Nonprofit Management and Leadership, School of Social Work, Student Health Center and the UGA Police Department. The University of Georgia has been a terrific partner in our growth and we continue to look for new and exciting ways to collaborate.

The Sleppy family at the 2016 Teach of the Year Banquet

Bob with his family at the 2016 Teacher of the Year Banquet where he received that year’s honor.

How has your UGA education prepared you for this role?

In addition to the high caliber of professors, fellow students and endless learning opportunities, the attribute that really makes the University of Georgia stand out is its commitment to service learning and community engagement. The opportunity to apply the lessons learned in the classroom to real-world situations is unparalleled.

How has the community perception of mental health evolved since you started at Nuçi’s Space?

I was hired as the executive director in 1999. Fortunately, I have seen some improvement in how depression and suicide are perceived by the public. Most of the stigma related to mental illness can be attributed to a lack of understanding and misinformation. The more we talk about mental illness, share our personal stories and feel empathy for each other, opportunities to lessen the stigma will occur. This weekend, during the third quarter of the UGA vs. South Carolina football game, the crowd will be asked to hold up three fingers in remembrance of Tyler Hilinski, the brother of South Carolina’s quarterback Ryan Hilinski. Tyler lost his battle with mental illness when he took his own life in 2018. Twenty years ago, I couldn’t have imagined that 92,746 football fans would pause for a moment to honor those we’ve lost or who continue to suffer with a mental illness.

Did you have a favorite professor?

I had great professors and lecturers throughout my undergraduate and graduate programs. My experience as a student in the Terry Part-time MBA Program was beyond what I could have hoped for. Some of the professors who come to mind are Dr. Ann Buchholtz, Dr. Dwight Lee, Charles Lankau III, and Dr. Bob Boehmer. However, I attribute a good portion of my professional success to Dr. David Harvey. His financial accounting class was very challenging, but it solidified the work ethic my parents instilled in me when I was younger. I have such a profound respect for Dr. Harvey and was delighted when he accepted a position on the Nuçi’s Space Board of Directors earlier this year, nearly 12 years after I attended my first class with him.

Finely and Bob Sleppy

Bob and his daughter, Finley, take in a Georgia game at Sanford Stadium.

What is your favorite part of teaching?

I have been fortunate to teach Theory and Management of Nonprofit Organizations, Social Entrepreneurship and Nonprofit Leadership through the Institute for Nonprofit Management and Leadership at the UGA School of Social Work for the past 8 years. My favorite part of teaching are the ongoing relationships I have with students. I try to incorporate a Socratic style of teaching so that we discover, analyze, discuss and solve problems in the classroom together. Often my interaction with students extends beyond graduation. I receive occasional emails from former students who stay in contact with me. I love watching them transition from students into colleagues.

Has teaching enhanced your ability to perform your role at Nuçi’s Space?

Absolutely. The blessing and curse of teaching very smart students is that they keep me on my toes. My responsibility as an instructor to stay current on trends and best practices in the nonprofit sector directly impacts my role as an executive director.

Most meaningful experience at Nuçi’s Space?

I have so many great experiences at Nuçi’s Space that it’s impossible to choose just one. One of my proudest moments was when my work at Nuçi’s Space and my involvement with UGA coincided. Nuçi’s Space has been recognized four times (2012,2013, 2015, 2016) as a Bulldog 100 business, recognizing the 100 fastest growing businesses owned or run by an alumnus.

Mallory O’Brien (ABJ ’12) and the secret to a soapy success

mallory o'brien

Mallory O’Brien is a UGA alumna and the brain behind Irish Spring’s Twitter account. Photo: Peter Frey

While the Bulldogs earned a “W” versus Notre Dame last month, one surprising brand also took home a marketing ‘win.’ Irish Spring, a popular soap line, enjoyed 15 minutes of internet fame thanks to an idea from Mallory O’Brien (ABJ ’12), the co-vice president for the NYC Dawgs and a social media community manager at Colgate-Palmolive, Irish Spring’s corporate parent.

After Georgia-based grocery chain Dill’s Food City announced in a now-viral post that it wouldn’t sell Irish Spring prior to the game against the Fighting Irish, Mallory had some great ideas that led to the brand reacting accordingly. 

no irish springs

A photo from the Dill City Food Facebook post that went viral.

Though there had never been a reason for Irish Spring to need a Twitter presence, this turned into the perfect opportunity to start a social media storm. Now verified with over 3,000 followers, the account has been an immediate success. 

In Irish Spring’s second tweet ever, the brand poked fun at the grocery store and claimed they were about to send a whole lot of soap to Athens. This gained almost 3,000 retweets and over 16,000 likes.

Irish Spring

Irish Springs sent quite a few packages to Athens. Photo via Irish Springs Twitter.

Irish Spring jumped head-first into the social media space, but followed only four accounts–the University of Georgia being one of them. But this wasn’t the brand’s only impact on the internet. Mallory suggested sending brand ambassadors to campus for that glorious–and crowded–football Saturday in Athens.

Irish Spring

Campus ambassadors for Irish Spring visited Athens with gifts. Photo via Irish Spring’s Twitter.

Who would have anticipated that a Bulldog was behind this campaign from ‘up north?’ Surprising as it may be, we know that all great things start at the University of Georgia.

Here’s to good, clean fun and a Georgia win!

Show off your red and black in style thanks to artist Melissa Mahoney (BFA ’87)

This article was written by Leigh Raynor Arndt.

All Bulldogs know that Saturdays in Athens are not for sweatpants. For those seeking a more refined gameday look, alumna Melissa Mahoney (BFA ’87) has designed a particularly stylish way to don your red and black. Her beautiful silk scarves have landed in the UGA Bookstore and embody Melissa’s love for her alma mater. The scarves’ combined artistry and practicality reflect the story of Melissa’s career–a path she began as a UGA student.

Melissa

Portrait of Melissa Mahoney (BFA ’87)

With several artists in her family, Melissa comes by her creative streak honestly. An Atlanta native, she now lives in Palo Alto, California. She’s led her own graphic design firm, Indigo Creative, since 1993. The success of her business now allows her to spend more time on another passion: painting.

Melissa’s scarf design uses high-energy swirls that run throughout her latest “Vortices” series, which is a collection of paintings and textiles. In addition to designing for UGA, she’s created scarves for Stanford and tech-juggernaut Google. And she’s been her own boss for more than 25 years. She attributes much of this success to the knowledge and skills she gained at UGA.

The Google scarf Melissa designed.

The Google scarf Melissa designed.

 

Melissa’s graphic design major and fine arts minor gave her practical know-how while allowing her to explore her artistic side. “Not all graphic designers can draw and paint, but these are great skills to have,” said Melissa. “They have helped me stand out in my field.”

After graduation, Melissa pursued graduate studies through UGA Cortona, a program that just celebrated its 50th anniversary. In Italy, Melissa was inspired by seeing in person the art that she’d studied for years. The trip also emboldened her. “Going to Italy gave me the courage to try new things and venture out,” said Melissa. Ultimately, her experience abroad led her to follow her dream of living in California.

After a few years working in Atlanta, Melissa packed up her belongings and drove across the country to the West Coast. With no job offer in tow, the move was risky. But the reward for her bravery has been a long career in California, the state that now “feels like home.”

Melissa continues to exhibit the courage she developed at UGA. A cold call and months of determination led to her Google scarf. A scarf for another tech giant will soon be on the way, too.

“There are so many ways to make a living as an artist,” Melissa said. “I’m lucky to do what I love. And I love sharing my passion. Seeing others enjoy my art brings me so much joy.”

UGA scarf

Melissa’s UGA scarf and more will be available at her pop-up shop at the UGA Bookstore in November.

 

Visit Melissa in Athens on November 22 and 23 for a “Scarf Pop-up” at the UGA Bookstore! Learn more.

And on Sunday, October 20, San Francisco Bulldogs can let their creative side loose during a workshop Melissa will lead at the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara.

 

Q&A with Trey Jarrard (AB ’93)

Trey Jarrard (AB ’93) is the CEO of Renewvia Energy. He founded Renewvia Energy in 2008 to develop solar power systems in financeable favorable regions across the United States. Under his leadership, the company expanded internationally in 2013 to develop utility-scale solar in Uruguay and then, hybrid and standalone solar photovoltaic and battery-powered microgrids in the Marianas Islands in 2016, Kenya in 2018 and Nigeria in 2019. Today, Renewvia operates under an expanded mission not only to add value to its U.S. clients, but also to improve the quality of life for people who live in power challenged areas while providing above market returns for investors.

Trey came to Athens recently to speak to several classes and tour campus. We asked him a few questions to find out more about what he does, his company and how his time at UGA shaped his professional path.

What made you want to start your own business? And why this particular business?

Opportunistic timing with target market. Specifically the activation of substantial commercial tax benefit for renewables in the US led me into the solar sector.

How did your time at the University of Georgia impact your professional and personal path?

Peer connections made at UGA directly introduced a unique track that would otherwise not have manifested in any form. One specific UGA connection changed my professional path completely from one sector over a short period of time that resulted in me identifying the current opportunity I am pursuing.

What is your favorite part of campus to revisit? What brings you back or keeps you connected to UGA?

The campus has grown so substantially over the last 25 years, some areas are difficult to recognize but old campus remains my favorite.

What are you most proud of professionally?

Being part of the initial funding of a large publicly traded company and starting an international company.

Many governments, non-profits, and individuals are working to create a more sustainable society and a more sustainable economy. Where do you see Renewvia fitting in to these efforts? What role can your work play in building a better future?

Renewvia is directly contributing to multiple governments in sub-Saharan to help solve poverty through provision of affordable and reliable sustainable power. Every solar microgrid Renewvia builds in Africa directly replaces a form of fossil fuel, disposable batteries or solid fuel, thus avoiding and reducing carbon emissions. Providing power in these communities directly impacts health, productivity, safety and gender equality. Improvements in each of these areas provides the people of these communities a critical element for improving quality of life in multiple forms.

If you could give one piece of advice to students, what would it be?

Meet as many people as you can, get to know them, learn from them and stay in touch.

Q&A With Aaron Luque (MBA ’16)

Aaron Luque (MBA ’16) is the CEO of EnviroSpark Energy Solutions, a company that specializes in the design and installation of electric vehicle charging station solutions. EnviroSpark was honored as a 2019 Bulldog 100 company, and Aaron is visiting campus this week to speak to entrepreneurship and sustainability classes, field questions from students and share his experience in both areas. We spoke with Aaron to learn a little bit more about him, his work, his UGA experience and how those three things intersect.

What made you want to start your own business? And why this particular business?

My work experience had previously always been in what would be considered a “big corporate” environment, complete with inefficiencies and red tape that would make it very difficult for me to best serve my clients. At the end of the day, I just wanted the freedom to be flexible and creative, and “best-fit” solutions for my clients. I wanted to recognize the uniqueness of each and every client and prospect, let them know they were special, and provide services with their needs in mind.

As cheesy as it sounds, I really did choose the sustainability sector out of an innate desire to leave the world a better place for future generations of humans and for life in general. Selling something you believe in is extremely fulfilling and comes easily and naturally, whereas selling something in which you don’t believe is difficult and unsatisfying.

You earned your MBA from UGA in 2016. Why did you choose to pursue that degree, and what impact has it had on your professional path?

Both of my companies had grown to a point where I needed to be thinking about business strategy and finance on deeper levels, and as a result I chose to enroll in the Executive MBA program. As an entrepreneur for the last 12 years, with no aspirations of working for anyone else anytime soon, the program has probably benefited me in different ways than it would for, say, someone who was simply looking to move up the corporate ladder. On a personal level, I’d have to say I personally got the most value from the finance and economic-related portions of the program, and the knowledge gained in those areas has significantly enhanced my ability to run my businesses.

What are you most proud of professionally?

The knowledge that my efforts and those of the teams I have built are having a major impact on the adoption rate and transition towards electric vehicles. EnviroSpark, a company self-funded and organically-grown, is directly responsible for the design and installation of over 10,000 electric vehicle charging stations across the United States and Canada. I cannot count the number of times one of my clients has called me up and told me they couldn’t believe how many people went out and purchased electric cars after we completed an installation at their office, hotel, apartment, condo, convenience store, etc. Knowing that we reached out to these locations, educated them about electric vehicles, designed a charging solution for them, implemented that solution, and then seeing the end result of increased electric vehicle ownership is extremely rewarding.

You’ve said that you’re passionate about sustainability. What do you see as your role—personally, professionally, or both—in creating a more sustainable society?

When I was first considering getting into the electric vehicle space I was thinking to myself “electric vehicles are amazing, why do more people not drive them?” After some research, it became very apparent there were two main reasons for this:

  1. Awareness – People simply didn’t know all the benefits of owning an electric car (I could go on for days on this topic).
  2. Range Anxiety – People were scared they would get stuck somewhere due to a lack of infrastructure (and rightfully so).

With that in mind l founded EnviroSpark with two primary goals:

  1. Learn as much as possible about all of the benefits of electric vehicle ownership and share this with as many people as possible
  2. Design and construct as many charging sites as possible. My hope was that every time someone saw one of our charging stations, they would be a little more comfortable with the idea of switching to an electric car.

If you could give one piece of advice to students, what would it be?

Whatever you do for a living, make sure it’s something you’re passionate about. Work is too much time of your life to be spent doing something you don’t love, and I’d venture to say it’s impossible for your overall quality of life not to be directly influenced by the level of satisfaction you have for your career.