By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
The next several months are going to be somewhat hectic for Dave Seeman, the Founder of Willow List and winner of the “Spring Vol Court” business plan competition.
He graduates next month with a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and dual minors in Engineering Leadership and Engineering Entrepreneurship. For the next several months, Seeman will be laser-focused on growing Willow List ahead of his August marriage.
“We need to show promise and progress by then,” he says in referencing his start-up and his upcoming wedding date.
“Vol Court” is a twice-a-year event coordinated by the Anderson Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Tennessee’s (UT) Knoxville campus.
Seeman, who calls Franklin, TN home, attributes his interest in entrepreneurship and inventing to his father.
“I always had ideas like him,” he adds. “I wanted to make things, but I did not want to stop there. I wanted to be an entrepreneur.”
Willow List is his second start-up. The first was built around an app that caused people to read more books. Seeman says that he entered a couple of competitions before deciding the idea “was beyond my scope.”
With Willow List, he thinks he’s found a winner by combining the increasingly popular crowdsourcing concept with bridal registries that frequently include more costly items than one individual might want to purchase.
His core concept is to allow people to contribute what they can toward the purchase of gifts bridal couples really want, even if the items are beyond the price range of that individual. Willow List allows an individual to commit money to a specific gift or gifts. The company will keep tabs on the amount contributed toward each gift in the registry and purchase and deliver the items once the requisite funds have been committed.
In addition to helping couples get gifts they want, Willow List will also solve another problem – bridal couples getting the same item from several different individuals.
Like many entrepreneurs, Seeman checked-out the competition – there are two other companies that started less than a year ago, so Willow List is the third start-up in this space.
“We differ from them in several ways,” he says. “For example, we are the only system you first register with that also delivers the product.”
Like many entrepreneurs, Seeman has also done his first pivot. He originally planned to buy the gifts from big box stores, but he’s now shifted his focus to what he describes as “boutique retailers.” He sees it as a win-win.
“The idea is they will stay integrated with Willow List, and we will help them sell more products,” Seeman says of the strategy that includes a strong loyalty or relationship factor not as easily established by a start-up with the large, chain stores.
Much of his initial work is being done in Knoxville, including the recruitment of the first group of “boutique retailers.” So, it’s only natural that he has formed an alliance with The Pink Bride, a company that bills itself as “Tennessee’s leading wedding resource.”
Seeman says his partner, whose principals have two decades of experience in the sector, does 12 bridal shows and 10 magazines a year.
Willow List’s alpha site launched today. Over the next several months, Seeman is focused on getting traction and expects to be generating revenue by the end of 2014.