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Mod III Lunches 2017

Lunch with an Entrepreneur, Mod III, 2017


Tuesday, January 17, 2017 1:00 to 2:00

Alex Tolbert (Owen 2009 )  Alex graduated from Vanderbilt with a joint degree in Business and Law.  While a student at Owen he ran what was then called the 8:10 Café, and this experience got him interested in running his own business when he graduated.

He concluded that the cost of healthcare insurance was higher than it needs to be so he set out to create a company that would enable companies to set up health savings accounts for its employees.  With such a system, a company creates a “savings account” for each employee from which they can draw cash to pay for health care services.  With such a system individual employees look for the lowest cost provider of healthcare.  The company pays a fixed amount into the account throughout the year, and any unspent balances can be carried forward to the next year.  To cover major medical costs, the company buys a high deductible policy that kicks in whenever an employee has paid the maximum for the year.

His system would also enable any member using his services to post low prices they found for things like prescription drugs or kids’ physicals for summer camp, etc.  He found that employees making relatively low wages were very sophisticated buyers of healthcare services.

This was his initial vision for the company, and it evolved to a broader model to account for changes in the market.  Twenty years ago individuals and companies bought healthcare coverage from insurance salespeople who explained all the intricacies of the healthcare policies.  These sales people have gone the way of the dinosaur, but people still need someone to explain the complex features of different health policies.  So Alex created a service that for a fee of, say $200, one of his employees will work with an individual to help them choose the best policy for their needs.  He now has offices in five states staffed with trained individuals who help people buy health insurance.

Go to Barnard Health( to learn more about the company.


Thursday, January 26, 2017 1:00 to 2:00

Jason Gries  Jason is a local entrepreneur who founded Foomanchew, a Chinese restaurant concept that delivers Chinese meals to your home, office or dorm room, or special event.  In fact, he will deliver the food for the lunch we have with him so you can see what it is like.

Jason ran a large company that manufactured products sold through places like Home Depot and Lowes.  The company lost a large contract with a major customer and had to close down, so Jason moved to Nashville to look for other opportunities.  While he was exploring different possible jobs he started looking at local Chinese restaurants in Nashville and wondered if it would be possible to somehow use the web to connect them in some way to make something bigger.

Initially, he would take orders and contract with local Chinese restaurants to prepare the food which he would then deliver to the customer.  As he was making the deliveries, he used his big company experience to document the procedures that were working and built quality controls into the system.  Once he had his system developed, he began to expand his supply base.  Most of the people running the small Chinese restaurants speak little English, so Jason had to find native Chinese speakers to contact the restaurants.  He hired at least one Owen student to work with him to find suitable restaurants, and the student continued to work for him after he moved back to China.  The student would complete his day job and then spend a few hours calling Chinese restaurants in America to get them to join the Foomanchew network.  Late in the day in China is midmorning in America.

The company now operates in ten cities scattered across the U.S.  Go here to learn more about the company and how it applies the Uber model to Chinese food.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017 1:00 to 2:00

Brian Fox (Owen 2001)   Brian worked as an auditor for a big four accounting firm in Dallas before coming to Owen for his MBA.  While working for this firm he experienced the frustration and annoyance of doing bank balance confirmations. A procedure auditors perform in a company audit requires the auditor to send a message to a bank asking for the balance at year end of the company bank account(s). The process sounds simple, but things get complicated.  For example:

1.     Bank personnel may write down the wrong number on the auditor’s request.

2.     The company being audited may give the auditor the address of the local bank they work with, but that bank may be part of a larger bank which has a special office to handle these requests so the local bank cannot respond to the request.

3.     A firm cooking the books may have the auditor send the request for the bank balance to a mailbox that really belongs to the CEO’s brother-in-law.  He writes down the balance the CEO asks him to put on the form.  An Italian company called Parmalat used this scheme to create billions of dollars in fake money.

4.     In 2008 the Bernie Madoff scandal was discovered when auditors insisted that Madoff use Brian’s system to confirm account balances. Madoff had created a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of billions.

So what does Brian’s system do? Essentially Brian took a paper based system that relied on the postal service, paper, and pen and ink and made it electronic.  Conceptually it is like sending an email to the bank which the bank then answers.  However, the security on his system probably is better than what the NSA uses.  When he started his company audit firms were getting sued for all kinds of things, so they refused to use his system unless it was foolproof.

Also, at the beginning he had to deal with a two sided market.  Auditors would not use his service unless he had a lot of banks using it, and banks would not use his service unless he had a lot of auditors using it.  You can ask him at the lunch how he solved that problem.

Brian now has offices in five different countries, including a London office.  London is basically the world’s financial center.  Brian just finished raising $60 million to expand his operations.


Friday, February 10, 2017 1:00 to 2:00

Bill Grana  Bill’s first venture was a company he started in 2001 called Pure Safety.  The company was born out of tragedy. In 1986, a Nashville man was crushed to death on the job while working on a front loader at a local manufacturing company.  Managers at the company decided to do something to prevent accidents like this, so they worked on a variety of ideas that eventually led to the creation of the Pure Safety company.  They invested in the company and Bill Grana liked the idea, so he invested and took the leadership in building the company.

 The company produced and marketed occupational health, performance and safety-related software and services. These products helped to train workers in proper safety procedures, tracked relevant information, and produced reports for managers they could use to monitor safety conditions in the workplace.

In ten years the company grew to about $40 million in sales when it was purchased in 2011  by United Laboratories of Northbrook, Illinois. 

Here is what UL said about their purchase: 

"PureSafety's sophisticated Occupational Health & Safety training, reporting and monitoring software will give our valued customers the tools they need to convert employee health and safety performance into meaningful business improvement," said Patrick Boyle, President of UL University.  "We plan to extend PureSafety's core capabilities into new industries and geographies aligned with UL's global business strategy."

When a reporter from the Nashville Business Journalasked Bill what his top Professional Peeve was, He responded:

People that are passive-aggressive, and particularly those that use email as a tool to foster their passive-aggressive behavior.  A close second is those that abuse the “reply to all” function in email.

Since selling Pure Safety, Bill has been serving on several company boards as well as boards that serve the community like The Nashville Entrepreneurship Center and Habitat for Humanity, etc.


Thursday, February 16, 2017  1:00 to 2:00 

Becky Sharpe (Owen 1991)  Becky graduated from Owen in 1991 and worked in a variety of positions after her graduation.  Her entrepreneurial career began in 2002, when she joined Scholarship Program Administrators, Inc. as President.  She immediately infused her passion for customer service, teamwork and the environment throughout the organization. Sharpe invested in industry-leading technology and infrastructure while driving the company’s substantial growth.

 In 2008, Becky acquired the company (making it 100% a women-owned business) and rebranded it as International Scholarship and Tuition Services, Inc. (ISTS) to reflect the company’s growth in both size and scope of services. Her fresh approach to program management quickly made ISTS a leader in earth-friendly practices and cutting-edge technology.

Today, she leads a talented team of management professionals dedicated to the highest levels of service and attention to detail. In the spirit of founder Nyles Ayers, ISTS is committed to making education a reality for all.

“ISTS specializes in providing scholarship, grant and tuition program management services. We tailor our services and online application to meet our clients’ specific needs and develop a customized plan to achieve their program objectives.

Our clients include corporations, foundations, associations and other philanthropic and gift-giving organizations. ISTS implements full-service program management solutions for many Fortune 1000 companies, national associations and multinational non-profit organizations. We also administer programs for scholarship-granting entities like community foundations, charitable campaigns and large membership-based organizations. We manage programs ranging in size from a few targeted candidates to more than 100,000 applicants.”

Since taking over the company, Becky has won awards for excellence for how she operates.  Some awards are:

2008   Named to Business TN’s Hot 100

2013Finalist for NEXTAwards celebrate excellence in business and entrepreneurship

2013Winner of the Alfred PP. Sloan Award for Excellence in Workplace Effectivenessand Flexibility

2014finalist for Inc’s list of fastest growing private companies

2014Named to “Top 50 Women Owned Businesses in Tennessee”

2014Named to 2014 “top 50 Women Owned Businesses in Tennessee list

 And the list goes on

Becky is a lively lady who will keep things moving at the lunch.