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VOL. 128 | NO. 88 | Monday, May 06, 2013

Couple Moves to Memphis to Launch Startup

By Andy Meek

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Pam and Tom Cooper are the co-founders of Boosterville, a Memphis-based startup with an app that helps school fundraisers raise money by connecting them with local businesses.

The Coopers have an initial $15,000 investment that came with being part of Memphis’ Seed Hatchery program. Friends and family chipped in $10,000, and the Coopers also are pursuing an additional angel round of funding.

What makes the Coopers unique among Memphis’ entrepreneurial scene is not just the fact that theirs is a startup launched and run by a husband-and-wife team. In addition to being new to Memphis’ startup community, the Coopers also are new to Memphis.

They relocated to Memphis recently from Indianapolis to participate in Memphis’ Seed Hatchery program. And while they’re not the first out-of-towners to go through it, the Coopers’ participation in Seed Hatchery shows that the accelerator program for high-growth companies is an attractive component of the entrepreneurial ecosystem here – for startup founders both in the city and beyond.

“Memphis is on the verge of exploding as a hub of high-tech high-growth startups,” said Pam Cooper, the Boosterville CEO, who married her husband, Tom, six years ago and soon after that started brainstorming ideas for a company they could start together. “The diligence of Seed Hatchery staff like Eric Mathews, Andre Fowlkes and Elizabeth Lemmonds in connecting the entrepreneurial community with the movers and shakers of Memphis has been phenomenal. Investors in Memphis are starting to realize that just because they don’t live in Silicon Valley doesn’t mean they can’t invest in a high-tech venture and have a shot at a (big) return that these kinds of companies can bring.

“That’s why Tom and I were attracted to Memphis. The energy around the startup scene here is not found on this scale in Indianapolis, where we came from. And Tennessee’s state government initiatives to back the startup community are years ahead of Indiana’s.”

Cooper’s husband is a software architect, co-inventor on five granted U.S. patents and 32 other patent applications, including Boosterville’s. She said he’s worked on a handful of startups in the past, but always as the implementer of someone else’s idea.

“Memphis is on the verge of exploding as a hub of high-tech high-growth startups.”

–Pam Cooper
CEO, Boosterville

His wife, meanwhile, has a non-tech background that includes owning a service franchise for 22 years and more than 20 years’ experience in volunteer leadership, including with her children’s schools and fundraising.

The inspiration for Boosterville draws partly from that background. Cooper said her mother, sister and niece are all music teachers, and she recalls her grandmother – who also was a teacher – tasking her students with selling magazine subscriptions 60 years ago to raise money for a projector.

“Tom and I decided that applying technology to school fundraising would be the perfect marriage of our experiences and backgrounds,” Cooper said. “We started investigating other startups in the space, and found nothing very innovative – mostly different spins on ‘donate now’ campaigns or discount cards. Having been the business owner constantly hit up for donations for silent auctions and sponsorship of sports teams, I knew I wanted to create a company that helped local businesses get more customers – not with loss leaders or deep discounts, but just by being a supportive community partner.”

The Coopers designed the Boosterville platform to incorporate digital wallet payment and geolocation technologies to be used on any phone with a browser. With the app, school supporters can easily identify merchants who’ve agreed to participate in the Boosterville network by allowing a percentage of the sale to be donated to a selected charity.

The supporter makes their purchase using their phone, bypassing credit card processing fees for the merchant.

Four MBA students at Christian Brothers University worked with the Boosterville team to evaluate and streamline the merchant acquisition process. In recent days, the team also met with Project Green Fork executive director Margot McNeeley, who is facilitating connections with restaurants.

Moving here to Memphis, Cooper said, made possible things that not might not have been elsewhere.

Said Cooper, summing up her feelings about launching the venture here: “Memphians really know how to reach out and connect people.”

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