By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Mount Carmel native Lauren Glass described herself at the beginning of our recent interview as a now 30-year old who has “jam-packed her life from 18 to now.” Over the next hour, she validated that statement with examples of her entrepreneurial passion in that 12-year period.
Her start-up thirst first evidenced itself when, as a senior in high school, Glass launched a non-profit named Beds4Kids. She says the inspiration came while watching “The Blind Side,” a movie inspired by the true story of Michael Oher who went from being a homeless teenager to a Division I All-American left tackle for Ole Miss. The scene that really captured Glass was when Oher was taken into a home and had his very own bed for the first time.
“That changed my life forever,” she says. “It was the first thing that ever inspired me. Kids not having beds was a real issue.”
During her time at Northeast State Community College and later at East Tennessee State University (ETSU), Glass grew the non-profit organization to serving people in four states and delivering more than 1,000 beds to those who did not have them.
College, however, did not inspire her, but helping others did. When Glass was introduced to the concept of social entrepreneurship tied to the “One for One” program from TOMS Shoes, she launched her second start-up named THROW.
Explaining that the first few pillows that she made were “hideous looking,” Glass finally developed one that looked great, posted it on Instagram, and secured $30,000 in orders one weekend. That was all the inspiration she needed to drop out of ETSU even though she was just a few courses from earning her undergraduate degree.
Glass moved to Atlanta, locating both Beds4Kids and THROW in Plywood Place, a co-working facility that she describes as a “socially conscious incubator.” After three years, Glass says, “I was burned out. I prayed about it (what to do). I decided to sell the pillow business and gave the non-profit to the buyers.”
She returned home, enrolled in King University, and completed four courses to earn her Bachelor’s degree in business.
“I did not plan to start another business,” Glass told us. Yet, her entrepreneurial DNA kicked-in, motivated by that need to help others. In this case, the focus of her newest venture – RPL – is about career coaching and mentoring with a strong emphasis on colleges and their alumni networks.
Glass said that young people, particularly in rural areas, “don’t get enough exposure to careers outside the norm.” RPL builds a network, drawing on the extensive and diverse alumni base that colleges have, in a mentor-mentee relationship.
Through RPL’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform, students at participating colleges and universities can schedule video sessions and use the text chat functionality to get in touch with their Alumni Coach and become one step closer to the career of their dreams.
Much of the approach was developed in conjunction with ETSU’s University Career Services Office, National Alumni Association Office, and College of Business and Technology.
“The platform has been live for a year,” Glass says, adding that she has mostly self-funded the start-up. She started bringing other clients on board in 2020 with a focus on additional institutions of higher education, local governments, and corporations.