By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Emily Skaar describes herself as “a very reluctant entrepreneur.” In fact, she says, “I never expected to be an entrepreneur.”
The Salem, VA native came to the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus to earn a biomedical engineering degree as a prelude to going to medical school. That was short-lived.
“I saw the light after the first semester,” Skaar told teknovation.biz in a recent interview. She graduated in December with a Bachelor’s Degree in Supply Chain Management.
The reluctant entrepreneur took second place in the “Fall Vol Court” pitch competition with her on-line retailer named The Gifter’s Market.
As Skaar related her conversion to being an active entrepreneur, she explained that she was on an airplane on November 12, 2012, returning from an interview. She began to think about ways to improve the fashion buying experience and came-up with an idea for a “virtual dressing room” where individuals could use photo capturing technology to see how clothes looked on others.
“I was not in love with the idea,” Skaar admits.
A few months later – February 15 to be exact, she was distressed to remember that she had failed to send her mother a gift for Valentine’s Day.
Describing herself as “still an engineer at heart,” Skaar said she decided to shelve the previous idea and develop a way to solve the latest problem – a “fix” in her terms – so that people would have a way to “leave no holiday forgotten.”
When she pitched her initial idea for The Gifter’s Market in the “Spring Vol Court” competition, Skaar planned a subscription model whereby she would select the gifts for her customers.
“People wanted input into the selection, not a robotic approach,” she learned.
By now, the entrepreneurial conversion was in full force, and Skaar participated in the NewMe Popup Accelerator in Memphis during the summer. She met what she described as “some creative and funky vendors,” the exact profile for the suppliers Skaar was seeking for The Gifter’s Market.
Today, Skaar’s company offers 12 to 15 unique items that are listed on its webpage. One is a vendor that provides distinctive bowls made in three different shapes from 33⅓ rpm records.
The Gifter’s Market concept is simple. Customers go online, create a profile for a wife, and set the recognition dates they want. The products are actually mailed directly from the supplier.
“We want to have all of the best vendors,” she says, adding, “We’re trying to pick things that your wife would want.” Skaar describes her concept as “mass uniqueness.”
All of her current vendors are based in either Tennessee or Virginia, but she expects to expand the group now that she has graduated. Skaar will grow the company from her Tennessee base, citing the availability of entrepreneurial resources here compared to Virginia.
“I like the area and the community,” she adds.
Skaar launched The Gifter’s Market on November 30 – the official Small Business Day and just a little more than a year after considering her first start-up idea.
“You catch the (entrepreneurial) bug, and you can’t stop thinking about it,” she says.
Skaar admits she would have taken a very different set of classes if she had planned to be an entrepreneur. She cited more marketing, graphic design, and photography.
“I’ve won less than half the competitions, but I’ve learned a lot,” she says of the events like “Vol Court.”
More important, however, is her philosophy about The Gifter’s Market.
“I get to make people happy every day,” Skaar says.