My new series Charlotte PlaceMakers highlights up and coming artists and entrepreneurs in the Charlotte area. These people are pivotal in making Charlotte the eclectic and dynamic city that it is. This month’s feature is VA native Velvet Nelson, Co-Founder of ProctorFree, a tech Start up that focuses on testing solutions for distance education. I interviewed her a few weeks ago and learned more about how ProctorFree got its start and how the Queen City is impacting the tech community. You can follow the company on Twitter @ProctorFree
Where are you from? I moved here from Virginia and was working at a community college and came here to work at UNC Charlotte in the Continuing Education department. I was a program director for roughly 1 ½ years and managed several continuing education programs. I then worked with a Startup company called Everblue that focused on providing training for the green industry. We trained engineers and architects and basically anyone in that field about how to go green. I met my business partner Mike at Everblue. He came here in 2010 to work for Everblue (originally from New York). Everblue had much success early on and eventually went on to become an accredited college in 2011. When it sold, Mike and I decided to do something on our own.
Where did ProctorFree come from? In 2012, we essentially were doing consulting work and helping out with marketing. We were looking for an idea; we knew we wanted to be a high-growth start-up, we knew we wanted to change education but we couldn’t figure out how. For month’s we tossed around ideas.
Two advisors (now investors) posed the question, “what problem have you had in the past that you wish you could have fixed?” And one of the issues at Everblue was testing online. We did online classes but could not test the students online. We found the problem and worked on a solution. That’s where ProctorFree came from.
What makes ProctorFree unique? Many students take distance courses because they are often more convenient and cost effective. There is a reoccurring issue with, when taking a test, having to travel to campus or to a library.
What we started is an on-demand, automated, online testing service. Essentially, the product allows students to take online tests rather than in person. It gives the faculty the comfort that the student is not cheating and that there is some integrity built into completing the course. The product monitors direct activity on the computer and records the testing session to make sure the student is not cheating.
This is something brand new that may change the way distance education will work. What has the progress been like for Proctor Free? It’s been really exciting.! We began working on ProctorFree in December 2012 and have been lucky in our venture. We started by researching the start-up community in the local area and were chosen for RevTech Labs at Packard Place in February 2013. This really opened many doors for us. We were able to network and meet lots of cool people and begin to develop our product. Packard Place introduced us to NC Idea, a state-wide economic development mission to foster high growth start-ups in the State of NC.
NC Idea gives out a series of grants twice a year to selective high-growth start-ups. We applied and received $40,000 in grant funding in June 2013. In June, after we received the funding, one of the folks from the NC idea committee who read the application, loved the idea and invested in the company!! This was our first round of serious funding.
How did ProctorFree get started with Packard Place? Everblue had also had interactions with Packard Place. We met folks through public events. (It really pays to network!)
Would you encourage others in the industry to move to Charlotte to get started? Absolutely. We feel strongly about it because people were telling me that if we have a startup, we should move OUT of Charlotte; suggesting other places like Raleigh, San Francisco, Boston or New York. The reason we like this community is because the start-up community is in its infancy. It is a burgeoning market here and it doesn’t get as much attention as it should. But there is value in having a close-knit start-up community. People are ten times more accessible!
What advice do you have for small businesses and other entrepreneurs? My first piece of advice is Network, Network, Network! There’s nothing to be nervous about! You’re crazy not to network in this area. You will find someone willing to work with you.
Another is to be patient. Every start-up story is completely different. Our story is fast and quick, other companies spend more time getting up and running.
To learn more about ProctorFree, check out their website and oh! They’re hiring »http://proctorfree.com/careers
Packard Place posts all events on Meetup.com »http://www.meetup.com/packardplace/