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Ole Miss Alumni Encourage Student Entrepreneurs at Summit

By Angelica Owens

University Communications

Claire Ficek, a junior integrated marketing communications major at the University of Mississippi and founder of social media management company Altar’d Socials, speaks during the opening session of the 2023 REDe Entrepreneurship Summit. Photo by Joe Worthem/J. Worthem Photography

The University of Mississippi graduates responsible for introducing a groundbreaking marketplace app that has made thrift fashion more accessible for college students encouraged budding entrepreneurs and offered advice at the sixth annual REDe Entrepreneurship Summit.

Hosted by the UM Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the annual summit celebrates and enhances entrepreneurial initiatives undertaken by Ole Miss students from various disciplines, with a unique theme being emphasized each year.

“The sixth annual REDe Summit was about inspiring our students to find their calling and to better understand where their passion lies,” said Clay Dibrell, CIE co-director. “As we celebrate the University of Mississippi’s 175th anniversary, we want our students to be inspired by their calling and to better understand how passion can pull them through difficult times by having their life callings drive their passion.”

UM alumni and Cursty founders Clara Agnes Ault (left), William Ault, Eli Allen and David Oates gather for a photo after a breakfast meet-and-greet session with Ole Miss students and staff from the university’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Photo by Joe Worthem/J. Worthem Photography and Design

More than 250 students gathered to hear from Claire Ficek, an Ole Miss integrated marketing communications junior from Maple Plain, Minnesota, as well as William Ault, Clara Agnes Ault and Eli Allen, all Ole Miss alumni and co-founders of Curtsy, along with their CEO, David Oates, who moderated the panel discussion.

“Meeting the Curtsy team and hearing their story about how they got their start right here at Ole Miss inspired me and many of my peers who were in attendance,” said Ficek, founder of Altar’d Socials, a social media management company that she started in high school. “I think it’s safe to say that the CIE equips their students to be successful entrepreneurs, no matter what field of business they may enter.”

Ficek, the summit’s opening speaker, was also the first-place winner of the 2023 Gillespie Business Plan Competition in April.

As head of growth for Curtsy, William Ault focuses on growing the business through marketing and product initiatives to reach more customers.

“I enjoyed visiting Ole Miss and speaking with students interested in starting businesses,” he said. “I was excited to share our challenges and experiences starting a company in Oxford, hoping it would help students avoid making the same mistakes.”

Julia Frazer, a junior marketing major from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and a Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Scholar for the Grisham-McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement, attended a meet-and-greet breakfast with the Curtsy team before the summit.

“The occasion was profoundly inspiring,” Frazer said. “It offered firsthand insights from the founders of Curtsy, each with a unique, lighthearted and incredible take on their journey.

“Their collective ability to pool ideas and create Curtsy showcased the power of converging passionate minds.”

After honing their concept at Ole Miss and landing a grant in 2015 from the Rebel Student Venture Funding, the Curtsy founders moved to San Francisco, where they have raised more than $15 million in capital. The company has grown into a nationwide business and has a projected 2023 revenue of $30 million.

University of Mississippi alumni and Cursty founders Clara Agnes Ault (left), William Ault, Eli Allen and David Oates offer insights and encouragement to more than 250 Ole Miss students at the 2023 REDe Entrepreneurship Summit. Curtsy, a marketplace app for college students to for buy, sell and rent clothing items from other college students, was founded by the partners while at Ole Miss. Photo by Joe Worthem/J. Worthem Photography and Design

“It is just great to see our former student entrepreneurs follow their calling and become so highly successful through their passion and hard work,” Dibrell said. “Given the engagement and questions from the audience, I could see they were inspiring our students for what comes tomorrow.

“These are the lessons that we want our Ole Miss student entrepreneurs to embrace.”

The Curtsy team also served as judges for the 2023 Servin’ the South Business Model Competition the following afternoon.

“I loved seeing all of the student businesses and how the startup community in Oxford has grown so much just in the few years since we were in school,” said Allen, Curtsy’s chief technology officer.

“It really speaks to the level of commitment by the university and the CIE faculty; I’m excited to see it continue to flourish in the years to come.”

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