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VOL. 129 | NO. 157 | Wednesday, August 13, 2014

BarterSugar Co-Founder to Speak at Startup Grind

By Andy Meek

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The next speaker in the Startup Grind event series in Memphis is a New York attorney, executive and author who ended up in the Bluff City, without planning on it, when she discovered the burgeoning startup community continuing to grow and take shape here.

Layla Tabatabaie is CEO and co-founder of BarterSugar, a startup that launched in Memphis to go through the Upstart Memphis accelerator this summer.


Startup Grind is an educational programming component connected to the Cowork Memphis space in Cooper-Young, and speakers participating in the series share insights and stories from their professional journeys. Next up on Aug. 26 is Layla Tabatabaie, CEO and co-founder of BarterSugar, a startup that launched in Memphis to go through the Upstart Memphis accelerator this summer.

The basic idea behind Tabatabaie’s venture is summed up with the first half of its name. She’s building a Web-based community where users can find and barter for what they need.

“The launch date was what attracted my startup to the Upstart program,” Tabatabaie said about the program, which focuses on women-led ventures. “We knew we were going to launch in the summer, and we thought being part of an accelerator program with something like a support system in the beginning would be good to be part of and useful for us.

“The reason we applied to Upstart in particular is it had a women-led focus, which is something we hadn’t seen virtually anywhere else, so that really made it stand out to us. And it was what led us to make the decision to come to Memphis, more than anything else.”

Once she got here, this former intellectual-property attorney was impressed by the city’s culture and bowled over by the serendipity of it, too. Memphis, she came to learn, had a vibrant arts, music and cultural scene – the kinds of communities, she explained, that tend to respond well to something like the BarterSugar platform.

“It’s almost like we were meant to come here,” said Tabatabaie, who – like co-founder Andres Arsalanian – had never been to the city before.

At its core, Tabatabaie says, BarterSugar is a bartering community marketplace. People create an account and are given the ability to add social media details to give themselves more credibility to the community.

Users upload details of items or services they want to offer – anything from books to games to services such as haircuts, tutoring and help with moving someone into a new house.

One of the things Tabatabaie will be able to talk about during the Startup Grind presentation is the benefits she and her team received from Upstart – from being in an accelerator that exposed the venture to a mentor network, for example, among other resources.

“There’s such a wide range of different startups and industries they’re catering to in this program,” she said. “And having that kind of ecosystem, with so many varied perspectives, is one of the most invaluable parts of being in this. Just being with the other entrepreneurs and having so many different takes on how to solve a problem if anything comes up – that’s been something that’s been really valuable.”

She said BarterSugar already is building partnerships with area colleges and universities – prime markets for penny-pinching students that might be in the market to trade something they own for a service someone can provide like navigating a campus or running a basic errand.

“We’re really excited to launch in Memphis and get it off the ground here,” Tabatabaie said.

Upstart Memphis is one of four accelerator components of the Start Co. organization, which is hosting a demo day Aug. 21 for the teams participating in each of its accelerators.

On that day, teams like BarterSugar’s will present their businesses on stage at The Orpheum Theatre to hundreds of investors, entrepreneurs and community leaders from Memphis and beyond.

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