Team Reunites to Launch New Venture
Devon Braun, Eller Entrepreneurship ’01
Co-Founder, Explorers’ Playground Inc and The Alexon Group
Vito Covalucci, Eller Marketing ’01 and Eller MBA ’09
Vice President of Global Marketing and Technology, Carat Security Group
Jason Martin, Eller Marketing and Entrepreneurship ’01
Director of Marketing & Communications, Georgia Tech – Center for Organic Photonics and Electronics
By Liz Warren-Pederson
As undergraduates in the McGuire Entrepreneurship Program, Devon Braun and Jason Martin devised a venture that took top honors in the business plan competition. Over a decade later – despite living on opposite sides of the U.S. – the two are still innovating together.
Along with fellow Wildcat Vito Covalucci and their developer, Brandon Thorpe, the team just launched an app called Orbit, which aggregates content from social media so that a user can preview the scene at a given nightlife location, in real time. “It’s powered by a sophisticated social DNA algorithm that we believe is the future of real-time social analysis and personalization,” Covalucci said.
“This is a strategy that allows us to get traction in the marketplace as we build our own user base, which will eventually supplement the app with their own content,” Martin said. “We just put the first version of the app in the market last week and are getting feedback from our early adopters.”
Martin came up with the concept for the app three years ago, and reached out to Braun to try and get it off the ground, but the technology wasn’t there yet. Then – last year – he and Braun got together and discussed the business model again. “No one had created what we were talking about,” Braun said, “and the technology had caught up. The team searched for a developer, and was able to be fortunate enough to find Brandon, and by spring, we had all our ducks in a row.”
Staying connected via conference calls and Google chat, they’ve brought the Orbit app to life, all the while managing other full-time responsibilities.
After graduation, Braun joined Nextel Communications in San Diego, selling cellular business plans to businesses as they integrated cell phones into their operations. Two years into the role, he’d climbed into the top eight percent of sales nationwide. “I felt like I’d hit my learning curve for outside sales,” he said, and so he left to co-found a toy manufacturing business with his father. “We produce items for the tween market, we have been in business for 12 years now and have over 4800 customers nationwide, ” he said. Five years later, he started a spinoff company, Alexon Promotions, which focuses on corporate promotional products. Last year, Braun partnered with a friend to launch his third company, which includes a series of plush monsters and children’s picture books. “We just put out the first book of a four part-book series called Adventures of The Horndribbles!” Braun and his partner just recently launched their first crowd funding campaign on Kickstarter. “We are very excited to see how the online community responses to our project,” he said.
From the entrepreneurship program, Martin started working with UA faculty members on development of a business plan for a high-tech venture. The team moved to Georgia Tech, and Martin continued with the company. “We sold it to a global materials firm in 2009,” he said, “and then I got involved with a solar energy project.” The recession created a poor financial environment for that project, but Martin stayed in the university, working in marketing for a research center, all the while staying engaged with his own entrepreneurial projects. He and Covalucci, for instance, cofounded a marketing consultancy and new media design firm, Self Actualized Studios, right out of Eller.
“That experience stimulated a desire to do more than just provide services, but to become a part of the startup technology environment,” Covalucci said. “That, in turn, lead to a quest for the knowledge I would need to see that through.” For Covalucci, that meant an MBA. The Eller MBA was accessible, a great value, and provided the strategic planning foundation he needed for future ventures. “Post-MBA I continued with Self Actualized Studios and parlayed an international corporate rebrand project into a full-time position with Carat Security,” Covalucci said. “Over the past four years I’ve been involved in everything from IT strategy to international sales leadership.”
Though their paths have varied, the team shares an innate drive for innovation.
“For me, it’s a kind of DIY attitude that’s been something my parents instilled in me,” Martin said. “I like to really think things through and find solutions to problems – it’s in my character and personality.”
Miami Beach street at night photo courtesy Shutterstock.