Meet Our Entrepreneurs
Explore four start-up companies chosen to complete the Andrews Launch Accelerator summer program.
NC State and Poole College of Management offers hands-on, real-world experience for entrepreneurs through a wealth of programs and initiatives that turn ideas into reality.
The following start-ups have been chosen to complete the 2020 Andrews Launch Accelerator, a 14-week summer program designed to help NC State entrepreneurs take their startups to the next level. The Accelerator also allocates equity-free seed capital to startups that complete the program.
Alumnus Robert “Chip” F. Andrews III – who earned his bachelor of arts in economics from the university in 1966 and is a current member of the Board of Trustees – and his wife Lyn have committed $1 million to establish the NC State Acceleration Fund, which will award grants annually to student startup companies.
CEO Lindsay Wrege grew up watching her friends with IDD struggle to find meaningful employment opportunities and she made it her mission to work towards lowering the unemployment rates for adults with disabilities. 321 Coffee is a nonprofit coffee shop that employs individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) located and is a staple vendor at the State Farmer’s Market.
“Additionally, we provide individualized and supportive training to develop our employees’ professional skills. I continue to be amazed by their growth and dedication. We are creating a space for society to recognize the unique value and strengths of individuals with IDD,” Wrege says. “Ultimately, we hope to grow 321 Coffee into a brand that promotes employment of this community across multiple industries.”
The coffee shop now has 21 baristas – all individuals with disabilities – being payed above minimum wage. Their executive team is looking to the Andrews Launch Accelerator program to guide them through modifying retail operations in the wake of COVID-19.
Recent Poole College graduate Malik McCray applied his previous experience working as an Amazon reseller for manufacturers when founding Simpliworks, a company that aims to make effective online advertising accessible to businesses of all kinds and sizes. Simpliworks utilizes smart-technology to help Amazon sellers launch scalable advertising campaigns with the capability of getting their products in front of thousands of customers.
Since Simpliworks’ conception, McCray teamed up with fellow NC State classmate Udeh Onwuka, the current computer scientist and lead developer of Simpliworks, to develop and algorithm to test in live markets.
“Through the [Andrews Launch] Accelerator, we hope to acquire the knowledge, skills and resources necessary to bring our beta product to the mass market,” McCray says. “It will provide a great opportunity to gain valuable experience and stress test our business model.”
Vetletics was born from doctorate of veterinary medicine candidate Irina Perdew’s idea of pneumatic compression device designed specifically for horses. The company, a research and development organization of veterinary products for the medical and athletic sectors, has now created and patented its flagship device with the help of NC State’s Office of Research Commercialization.
Perdew also collaborated with Lauren Schnabel, associate professor of equine orthopedic surgery at NC State; Matthew Breen, NC State professor of genomics; and Oscar J. Fletcher, professor of comparative oncology genetics at NC State. All three are now a part of her start-up team.
“Anyone can start a business, but it is a challenge to develop and sustain a successful one,” Perdew says. “The Accelerator program is a once in a lifetime opportunity to network and learn from experts as we structure and plan our business – and I know it will help us avoid common pitfalls so that we don’t waste our opportunity to impact these veterinary sectors.”
Sani, a clothing brand offering South Asian inspired fashion for a new generation, is a true family affair with co-founding sisters Niki and Ritika Shamdasani running the show. The two women realized the lack of modernization and style when shopping for an Indian wedding and went to work designing their first mini collection in 2017.
The Shamdasani sisters’ success continued when Sani became the first South Asian brand on the Rent the Runway platform, an online service that provides designer dress and accessory rentals. Rikita is now managing her time between the company and completing her bachelor’s degree in fashion textile management at NC State.
Sani is also one of the four out of five Andrews Launch Accelerator startups for 2020 that are women-led.
“We are so grateful and excited to participate in this year’s program,” Ritika Shamdasani says. “We hope to soak up and act on as much as possible from the weekly sessions; and we’re looking forward to building a community of our fellow founders, the incredible accelerator staff, and other mentors.”
Related: A Conversation with Chip Andrews
NC State alumnus Robert “Chip” Andrews (Economics ‘66), former chairman and CEO of FMI Corporation, sat down with us to talk about just that, as well as his path into the business world and how to be an effective leader.
“If [students] are trying to be successful over the long term, they’ve got to really learn that leadership is about helping other people,” Andrews said. “The life lesson is leadership is about helping other people win.”
Andrews is currently a managing partner of Andrews Ventures LLC and a member of the NC State University Board of Trustees. He and his wife, Lyn, established the NC State Andrews Launch Accelerator in 2016.