In 1994, Doug Fraser experienced the creative equivalent of a lightning bolt while doing contract marketing for Sprint, one of the title sponsors of that year’s World Cup Soccer USA 1994. The 1983 Harbert College of Business grad was on the field at the Rose Bowl with his crew at the same time rehearsals were being done for the closing ceremonies.
Whitney Houston was performing. Fraser watched her jog to the stage carrying a soccer ball, hand-in-hand with soccer legend Pele, and launch into “I Want To Dance With Somebody.” It was a vision.
“The World Cup featured artists like Whitney Houston and The Three Tenors, all at a sporting event, and I just thought ‘this is the coolest thing ever,’” Fraser says. “The synthesis of sports and music is powerful.”
Six years later, in 2000, Fraser started The Art of the Game, which now frequently beats out billion-dollar entertainment conglomerates for business. The event-marketing, sales-support and brand-development company that a separate division for live concert productions. Based in Franklin, Tenn., the company produces and directs fully integrated marketing programs and live concerts, performing and visual art formats, and celebrity chef cuisine demonstrations at major sporting and cultural events for clients that include The Coca-Cola Co., NBC, The Home Depot, NASCAR, the NFL and the Southeastern Conference.
Monday through Friday, Fraser is on the road or in the air. He’s servicing current clients. Finding new ones. He’s on the phone constantly, but he’s still big on face to face meetings with clients, something he learned from his dad, a former president of an industrial engineering company that serviced steel mills and foundries in the southeastern United States.
“He actually took me along on some of his client visits, so I learned quite a bit from him,” Fraser says. “His hard work helped put me and my two sisters through Auburn.”
Fraser, 55, enrolled at AU in the fall of 1979 with dreams of playing baseball, but coach Paul Nix encouraged him to focus on a business degree instead—a move that led him on a circuitous route back to the world of sports.
In 2007, Fraser added live concert production to The Art of the Game’s eclectic repertoire. It only seemed natural. He had been coordinating so much for the Country Music Association Awards it prompted his move from Atlanta to Nashville.
For things like the NFL’s Pro Bowl and Super Bowl, Fraser says people would probably think of him as an entertainment coordinator. But he’s a chief marketing officer by trade, so The Art of the Game is also on monthly retainer for marketing and branding services to various corporate groups, sports organizations, even Grammy Award winners.
As a small company, Fraser prides himself on The Art of the Game’s ability to cope with the unexpected.
“We constantly have to be better to be unique in the market,” Fraser says. “People have many options these days, so they’re always looking for better options.”
When LeAnn Rimes couldn’t get to the stage for the national anthem during NBC’s broadcast of the 135th Kentucky Derby, Fraser’s team discreetly removed the misplaced heavy Kentucky Derby Trophy Anvil cases blocking her door to the stage. There were no tweets, social media mentions or NBC commentary about prop malfunctions. The show went on. The whole thing looked almost as seamless as the Rascal Flatts anthem handled in the exact same spot (sans Derby Trophy cases) at the 136th Derby one year later.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ November 2016 nationally televised game against the Raiders posed a different challenge: from Mother Nature, with wind chills in the single digits. A week earlier, after checking the hour-by-hour forecast for game night, Fraser picked up the phone. “I had to make the call,” he says. “I’d done cold weather performances in the past at 17 degrees and the vocal performances were quite difficult. Below 32 degrees, singers have real problems. We really wanted a strong national anthem for the NBC Thursday Night Football audience.”
Four days before the game, the emerging country group Farewell Angelina gathered in a Nashville studio to pre-record music and vocals for the group’s Arrowhead Stadium pregame show.
When Farewell Angelina walked off the field, their voices were intact, their careers on the rise. No one was the wiser. The Chiefs won. They made the playoffs. The first game was at home. They needed another anthem. They needed another halftime show. They needed them quickly. They called Doug Fraser again.
Fraser’s hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. “Doug was a great asset to the game presentation efforts of the ACC Football Championship Game as he secured and coordinated the national anthem performers at the festivities in Charlotte,” says Michael Kelly, former ACC associate commissioner of championships and current COO of the College Football Playoff & Championship. “His experience with major events and his prodigious network of entertainment contacts were extremely helpful.”
“Doug always has a wide variety of entertainment options, allowing us to find the perfect fit for each event,” says Jacquie
Collins, director of NFL/Party Planners West Inc. “He is a fantastic liaison and understands the challenges involved when performing at a complicated, high security event like Super Bowl. There are many requirements to be met and Doug handles them all with precision and finesse. The value of this skill cannot be overstated. His expertise, along with his unflappable, easy style, are priceless at an event where the stakes are high and fluidity is a given.”
Fraser is proud of The Art of the Game’s success, but satisfied? Never. Despite 17 years of servicing major companies and events, his 2017 New Year’s resolutions read like those of someone who hasn’t made it. He also remains hell-bent on harnessing his company’s underdog, boutique mentality into
a greater industry presence.
Maybe he’ll even achieve one of his aspirational goals: the “Orange and Blue Ceiling” of Auburn Football.
When asked “How can you make local government more efficient?” Wanona Satcher ’02 knew the answer had to come from the community itself.
Earning her bachelor’s degree in 2002 and master’s in 2005, both in architecture from the Auburn College of Architecture, Design and Construction, Satcher followed the well-trodden path to a private firm, but found little personal satisfaction. In 2011, while developing affordable housing for the public sector in Durham, N.C., she knew she was headed in the right direction, but still searched for a way to use design for real social change.
Seeing urban farmers in Durham convert a shipping container into a mobile farmer’s market, she recognized the containers’ potential for housing.
Calling them tiny houses or “pod” houses, out of that idea ReJuve was born: using shipping containers or pods to rejuvenate communities. The nonprofit organization is currently in the process of creating a prototype pod house and engaged in crowd-sourcing.
“I call them ‘Plug-In Pods,’” Satcher says of her program. “I’m not moving into a community and taking over. I’m just trying to ‘plug in’ a pod to fit the needs the community has.”
Although the pods were initially intended as affordable housing, once word had spread, everyone Satcher met seemed to have an idea of how to use them.
“One wants a pod for a coffee shop,” she says. “Another lady is a nail artist who wants to build a nail shop. Some musicians in Durham wanted a pod they could take on the road as a portable stage, and doctors working with dementia patients have been interested in pods as accessible dwelling units. UNC Chapel Hill even had an idea of creating mobile health clinics to help in isolated rural communities.”
With so many possibilities, Satcher redirected ReJuve’s focus from primarily housing-oriented pods to putting ready-to-customize pods in the hands of the people who want them.
Container homes have been around for decades, but in most instances are lavish to the point of unaffordability for a majority of people. Satcher said her few competitors can charge in excess of $100,000 for a “tiny house”; she intends the Plug-In Pods to cost $20,000 and retail at around $40,000 or less by using recyclable materials and locally sourced jobs.
“I don’t need a corporation to help me,” she says. “I need local welders. I need carpenters. I need the community to help me build these things.”
In addition to designing the prototype pod, Satcher is also working on a land-trust model to partner with investors and philanthropists to buy property and keep housing.
“My vision is to build pod communities around the globe where we infill vacant lots with shipping containers. People can live, work and play in that space without having to gentrify or displace.”
The first Plug-In Pod affordable home is scheduled to be completed by the summer of 2017. In time, Satcher intends to open a for-profit wing of ReJuve that would allow her to build Plug-In Pods full-time as well as offset the cost of its non-profit sector.
Most Auburn students and alumni have their fair share of encounters outside of the Plains. Whether it is in an airport, mall or gas station, we are always ready to greet each other.
This is how the story of 2006 alumnus and founder of Prevail Union coffee shop Wade Preston’s relationship with the Schippers family begins.
Since 2015, Preston has been buying thousands of pounds of Guatemalan coffee from the Schippers plantation in San Luis El Volcancito to serve as one of
his staple coffees in downtown Auburn and Montgomery.
Preston met 2014 Auburn alumna Paulina Schippers and her father, owner of the coffee farm San Luis El Volcancito, at a Specialty Coffee Association of America meeting in Seattle, Wash., in 2015.
“We met after a lecture that an Auburn professor presented,” says Schippers. “Wade was asking some questions and mentioned that he owned a coffee shop in Auburn and it caught my attention.”
After the lecture, Preston gave the father and daughter his business card and they eventually met up back on the Plains to talk business.
“The coffee that we work with is probably in the top 2 percent in the world,” says Preston. “We tried it and loved it. They scrambled to give us a little of what was left of the last harvest, and we bought a few bags from 2015. Now it’s our staple coffee and base for a lot of the blends. We have the ‘Father’s Daughter’ blend named after them.”
Like every other farmed food, location and elevation make a difference in the quality of the harvest. At San Luis El Volcancito, the plantation surrounds a volcano; volcancito means ‘little volcano’ in Spanish.
“All of the volcanic soil makes very fertile land,” says Schippers. Compared to other farms in the country we don’t have the highest altitude. You can say that soil helps even out the quality.”
That fertile soil has resulted in Preston bringing in about 750 pounds a month to his roaster in downtown Opelika.
Preston has also used the coffee at the U.S. Barista Championship qualifier last year.
Schippers graduated in chemical engineering in 2014 and is currently an automation engineer for SiO2 Medical Products Inc. at the Auburn Technology Park. She primarily helps her father through Dos Niñas, the family farm’s importing company that acquires new potential clients and maintains contact with their current roasters.
The success of the Schippers plantation in Central America has allowed them to give back to the community as well by renovating the local Santa Rosa school about three years ago.
Prevail Union has partnered with the Auburn University-based Hunger Solutions Institute, a non-profit collaborative initiative within the Auburn University College of Human Sciences and the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station dedicated to ending hunger and malnutrition through efforts to implement innovative and practical solutions.
The first step to appreciating artist Butch Anthony is finding him. This is easier said than done.
Deep in the forests of southeast Alabama, somewhere near Seale but not quite, lies the farm/home/workshop of one of the most original names in contemporary folk art. Denoted only by an aluminum mailbox marked “B. Anthony,” many have accidentally sped past his dirt-gravel driveway.
Only at the intersection of highways 169 and 431 do they see his most well-known work, the Museum of Wonder, a drive-through art exhibit lovingly hand-crafted and first put “on the map” by the History Channel TV show “American Pickers,” which featured Anthony’s collections on a 2010 episode. Built from shipping containers with sides replaced by Plexiglas, the museum features a carnival procession of recycled oil paintings, found objects and ponderous sculptures with no prevailing theme or even medium—just a commitment to abstraction.
The museum sits, with meager explanation, like a monument in the middle of nowhere, and this is how Anthony prefers it—all display and intrigue, without having to explain himself.
“Never was gonna do art; I was gonna be a paleontologist,” Anthony says. “I kinda just fell into it. I make stuff with bones on ’em. Most of my things have skeletons drawn over them.
I never went to school for art. I just taught myself how to make stuff.”
In 1979, at 14, Anthony discovered a dinosaur bone in the woods near his house, introducing him to Auburn comparative anatomy professor Jim Dobie. In high school, Anthony would travel with Dobie’s paleontology classes on dig expeditions, assisting in an excavation of a T. Rex skeleton in Montgomery County in 1982.
“We would catch turtles and bats and whatever and bring them back in jars [and] dissect them,” Anthony said of his time with Dobie. “I got into anatomy so I incorporated it into my artwork.
“I went hog wild,” Anthony says of his studies at Auburn, where he focused his classwork on biology. After leaving Auburn, he worked a few zoology jobs but was uninterested in “9-to-5 crap.” Finding a human-shaped turnip one day, Anthony dared his friend John Henry Toney to sell it in a neighborhood antique shop.
“As a joke, we took it down to this old junk store and put it there with $50 on it. Somebody came and bought it, so I put $50 on mine, stuck it in the window and someone came along and bought it next day. It took off and we ain’t stopped since.”
Anthony and Toney, now 51 and 83, respectively, have been busy.
Skeletons painted over portraits; collages of found photographs, arrowheads and bent wire; a cowbone chandelier. The only consistent theme here is the symbiosis of nature, found artifacts and wit. A shredded oil painting with a deer head protruding through a massive hole hangs in Anthony’s house, which itself was built from reclaimed timber.
Thanks to his occasional posts on social media, recognizing his style has become de jure for the self-respecting modern folk-art aficionado, even as the art world’s imposed definitions increasingly fall short of doing him justice. Anthony prefers his own definition: “Intertwangleism.”
“It’s just a made-up word that I came up with,” Anthony says from the back porch of his workshop-showroom, a converted barn built in the early 20th century. “ ‘Inter’ means mixed, ‘twang’ is a way of speaking, and ‘ism’ is like a theory, so it’s my theory on mixing things up. I made the word up but everybody likes it so much it just caught on.”
Anthony has cultivated a brand of privacy across decades, even as his artwork has garnered critical praise and collectors around the world. It wasn’t always like this.
Years ago, when the Museum of Wonder was still seeping into regional consciousness, Anthony hosted a weekend art and music celebration called the Doo Nanny on his property. As word spread, crowds became larger. Louder. Less polite. Some people overstayed their welcome, while others tried running off with artwork. After three years of crowds reaching into the thousands, the Doo Nanny was formally ended. He has no regrets. “I’ve always liked being by myself. Being around a ton of people drives me nuts. But I have to be around them when
I go to an art show.”
Anthony does lot of art shows now, finishing his fourth London gallery show and planning another in Moscow. A museum in Charleston, S.C., is planning a retrospective, giving him two years to prepare.
“All the hipsters in London love it. They’re into graffiti and street art. I’m kind of in that category… painting over other people’s stuff.”
The only public function Anthony regularly attends by choice is the Possum Trot, a loosely formalized auction and cookout down the road from his home. A cinderblock wareroom with an open-air hall next door hosts people from all over who come to sell their pickings and bid on others.’ The History Channel’s “American Pickers” has attended this as well.
Here is where Anthony finds most of his material and inspiration.
“New stuff is expensive,” he notes. “A tube of paint in an art store is like $40. Dang art students go broke trying to buy canvases. They want a hundred dollars for a big canvas, or you could go to the Possum Trot and get one for $5.”
Raised in a family of “junk collectors” who brought back twice as much from the Russell County dump as they left with, Anthony is the center of attention at the Possum Trot. People ask about his crops or offer their latest find while he ambles from one table to another. There are always plenty of ideas to be found.
Because, as Anthony notes, “I sell everything.”
A few years after he graduated from Auburn in 1991 and moved back to his hometown of Chicago, Patrick Riley needed to find a place to watch Auburn football games occasionally.
He didn’t have to go far.
In the Andersonville neighborhood of the Windy City, next door to a thrift shop that benefits healthcare for the LGBTQ community, he found Hamburger Mary’s, a restaurant that has become a de facto home on some Saturdays for Auburn fans and Andersonville Brewing.
“The burgers are excellent,” Riley says. “Ashley and Brandon are excellent hosts and love having members of the Auburn family around for games.”
“Ashley and Brandon” are Ashley and Brandon Wright, twin brothers (and both 1996 Auburn grads) from Austell, Ga., who, with a third partner, run the Hamburger Mary’s chain across the country.
They also have Auburn in their blood.
“Our mom went to Auburn, our granddad went to Auburn, and our grandparents met at Auburn,” Brandon says. “We grew up watching Auburn football games and the Iron Bowl and Bo Jackson. We were fans first. We had so much Auburn stuff in our wardrobe that there was really only one place we’d go.
“We weren’t forced to go to Auburn, but let’s just say it was the only place we applied,” he says.
His brother recalls his grandfather as being a “very fair” man.
“He said we could go anywhere we wanted for college, but his checks were only written to Auburn University,” Ashley says with a laugh.
Living at the corner of Magnolia Avenue and Gay Street in a building owned by their grandfather, the twins, following in the footsteps of an older brother, made the best of their time at Auburn University.
Brandon ran for vice president of the SGA as a freshman. Ashley was editor of the Glomerata his sophomore year. Both were co-founders of a group called Students for Progress. The brothers were also involved in a failed effort to get the Auburn Gay and Lesbian Association chartered.
“Even though we weren’t out, we knew we were gay, so we were affected by that and the hate that was there from people we were involved with,” Brandon says.
That didn’t slow them down. Brandon was a student senator and a founding member of the Cupola Engineering Society; Ashley worked for the Glom, The Circle literary magazine and WEGL, where he had his own radio show.
“I hosted a weekend call-in talk show,” Ashley says. “I was, of course, the liberal voice.”
Despite the occasional setback, both look back at Auburn with fondness.
“Obviously, being a closeted gay man, it wasn’t always the easiest, but that’s something that gay people have to go through no matter where they are,” Ashley says. “I fell in with a lot of good people at Auburn. I think the South gets a bad rap when it comes to tolerance and that sort of thing.”
When the brothers graduated in 1996—Ashley with a degree in marketing and Brandon with a degree in chemical engineering—they went their separate ways.
Brandon moved to Chicago and Ashley, after a spending a year in Munich as a Rotary Scholar, worked as a flight attendant and later settled in Washington, D.C., where he managed a popular nightclub.
They had always talked about opening a restaurant or bar, however, and the opportunity finally presented itself. Hamburger Mary’s in the early 2000s was an established but struggling chain. Long an icon of the LGBTQ community, its mix of good food and campy shows was a hit in cities with large gay populations such as San Francisco and Washington.
Ashley, living in D.C., was familiar with Hamburger Mary’s, and Brandon was sold when he visited.
“I loved the whole atmosphere,” Brandon says. “One of the mottos is ‘an open-air bar and grill for open-minded people.’ It’s all-inclusive. It’s gay-owned, and gay people like it. But I would say that more than 50 percent of the clientele is straight.”
In 2006, the Wrights, along with a group of friends, opened a franchise of Hamburger Mary’s in Chicago.
A year after opening in Chicago, the brothers partnered with the owner of the Hamburger Mary’s West Hollywood location and bought the whole shebang. Little by little, they began to rebuild the brand.
“The first franchise we sold was in Orlando, and they were hugely successful,” Brandon says. “We now have six in Florida.”
A Houston location, scheduled to open in February, will be the 16th, and future growth is planned.
An appearance last year on CBS’ “Undercover Boss,” in which the twins wore disguises and visited Hamburger Mary’s locations to talk to employees, gave them even more exposure. At the end of each show, the bosses reveal themselves and give rewards to some of their employees.
“It was good exposure for our brand,” Brandon says. “It showed us for the most part in a very positive light.”
The Chicago Hamburger Mary’s flies the Auburn flag out front and plays the fight song during the games, which can draw upwards of 50 or 60 fans. “We’re definitely known as an Auburn bar,” Brandon says. “That flag is flying out front along with the Cubs and the Bears.”
Both are still a little surprised about what they’re doing, but Brandon believes Auburn was a factor in their success. “If not developed at Auburn, the seeds for entrepreneurship were certainly planted there,” he says. “I didn’t know this was the path I was going to take, but I’m glad I did.
“If you’re faced with the choice of doing something bold or playing it safe, or if you feel confident in the success of the product and you believe in the brand, then go for it,” Brandon adds. “You only have one life.”
When Tim Spicer ’12 started teaching guitar lessons out of his garage in the seventh grade, he had no idea he would eventually own his own music store, or break the world record for having the world’s largest rock band.
On the corner of the Moore’s Place shopping mall just off of University Drive in Auburn sits a quaint shop with a burnt-orange and white sign. Outside, the shop has a welcoming wooden bench. Inside, music floods your ears, light reflects off the colored electric guitars and makes the shop seem technicolor, and the air is sweet with the scents of wood and oil.
This is Spicer’s Music, a small, family-owned music shop with a big heart for the Auburn community.
The Spicer music story began about eight years ago with a summer music camp in the family garage for community kids. Tim Spicer, who had his degree in special education from Auburn, realized he could combine his loves for music, teaching and family. Eleven days later, he joined his father, Tom Spicer ’81, and younger brother, Corey Spicer ’15, and Spicer’s Music was born.
Since opening, the store has continued to grow. Multiple lesson rooms have been added, branching off of the main floor, each fitted with soundproof glass. The lessons offered take a song-based approach to encourage a fun atmosphere and allow students to pick out whatever song they want to study, learning the concepts and theories that went into making that song. Lessons are offered Monday through Saturday to people of all ages, all needs and all instruments.
The Spicers also wanted to provide opportunities for local musicians to showcase their talents in singing, playing and songwriting. The result? Open Mic Night.
“After our first Open Mic Night, I remember how astonished we were at the level of talent that lived in Auburn, Opelika and the surrounding areas,” Tim Spicer says. “There are some absolutely incredible musicians that live around town.”
Now, Open Mic Night occurs once a month and usually sees a crowd of about 75 people. Bands from Columbus, Montgomery, Prattville and beyond come to Spicer’s Music to perform.
Tom Spicer has been a musician since childhood. His father played the drums in a pre-WWII military band. In the fourth grade, Tom was offered to play trumpet in the elementary band.
“They wanted me to play trumpet only because my family had a trumpet, but I wanted to play drums,” Tom says. “But they didn’t need a drummer, they needed a trumpet player and we had one. Back in the day, when you didn’t have a lot, you used what was passed down in the family.”
More recently, Tom was a part of a folk band called Caterpillars in the Community, but since opening the store he has focused on the business side of things.
“Owning a business with my family is a lot of fun. We all have the same vision for the store and we have the chance to see each other often,” Tom says. “I would have never guessed that I would ever own a family business, but it’s awesome.”
Had 25-year-old Meghan McCarthy been a star at Auburn, she wouldn’t be the star she is today.
McCarthy enrolled at AU in 2010 and studied theater, but barely had a chance to act—she looks young and sounds even younger. Her voice is so high-pitched her high school math teacher couldn’t hear her answers in class.
That voice didn’t help her in the AU theater but it helped her join the group of young Auburn alumni who have crafted online careers through social media.
In April 2013, her junior year, a friend introduced McCarthy to Vine, the looping video app Twitter had launched that January. Like Twitter, Vine’s appeal lay in its brevity, only instead of 140 characters of text to convey your thoughts, you had six seconds of video.
“The summer before my senior year I tried to start making vines that other people besides my friends would watch,” she says. She posted at least one each day. Six-second songs. Six-second Pokemon impressions. People ate it up. Her wit was a major reason why she’s funny—and so was that voice.
“On Sept. 1, I checked the app and I had 1,000 followers,” she says, still amazed. By the end of the year, she had 1 million. By AU graduation day, she had a career.
That September, ABC’s “Nightline” featured a segment on brands targeting young customers via Vine rather than million-dollar TV commercials. And there was micro-movie star Meghan McCarthy, two months before graduating with her theater degree, dancing in a six-second skit that Tic Tac Mints paid her to post. Not long after that, she did the same thing for Coca-Cola.
As of this writing, McCarthy has 3.5 million followers on Vine. Her vines have been looped more than 1.5 billion times. That’s billion with a B.
Like social media itself, however, Vine is proving to be shifting sand.
In October, Twitter announced it would shut down the app, or at least the ability to upload videos, in early 2017.
McCarthy is among dozens of popular Viners to have successfully transitioned their talents to Instagram, Snapchat, and the lush, lucrative promised land of YouTube.
She’s spent the two-and-half years since graduation in Los Angeles becoming “a YouTube superstar.” That’s how Lenovo’s Chief Technology Officer Yong Rui addressed her at Lenovo Tech World after the China-based tech company hired her as a spokesperson for the June 2016 event. McCarthy stood up in the auditorium, pretended she had no place to put her new Lenovo cell phone, and proceeded to blow the audience’s mind by wrapping it around her wrist and wearing it like a bracelet.
It’s all about style.
During those final days before graduation, most college seniors are giddily planning their futures. Susan Stachler had more foreboding things on her mind.
She was undergoing a battery of intensive medical tests. Two weeks before she graduated from Auburn in 2004, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph glands that affects only 1 percent of the population. It was the same disease that had killed her aunt Sue, her namesake, at age 28.
Ironically, Stachler, who lives in Sandy Springs in metro Atlanta, was already a veteran of certain hospital routines because her father was battling Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. (The two conditions are similar, but they are slightly different in their cellular makeup; Non-Hodgkin’s is more common.) When she was told her diagnosis, Stachler, a fit and friendly extrovert with a big smile, handled it with characteristic aplomb.
“Susan’s first reaction when she got the news was that maybe she could become a motivational public speaker for the American Cancer Society,” recalls her mother, Laura Stachler. “She didn’t break down—Susan is tough as nails.”
So father and daughter ended up taking chemotherapy treatments together. Susan Stachler’s regimen lasted six months and was followed by radiation. Her pale blond hair fell out. “For me, the hair was the tipping point,” she says. “I felt like I had lost all control. I didn’t want to be different. I didn’t want to be singled out. Even on my sickest days, I wanted to still feel pretty and like myself. So I would wear a scarf, earrings and always lip gloss.”
Also, food lost its savor during those months.
“Chemo makes everything taste funny, as if there is metal in your mouth.”
Her mother operated a dessert and bakery company, so she began experimenting with snacks that both patients and non-patients could enjoy.
Ginger is a natural digestive aid, a stomach soother. She enlisted Susan’s help and the two whipped up some gingersnaps, which had a piquancy that overcame the metal-mouth syndrome. They were so good, in fact, that Susan started taking them with her to the hospital to share with other patients who were hooked up to those intravenous needles.
“People’s faces would light up when she shared her cookies with them,” Laura says. “We also began sharing them with the customers who bought my other desserts. Within a couple of months, our gingersnaps were the No. 1 seller in my business, outselling the cakes. We realized we had hit upon a good idea, that there was a real market for these cookies. We decided to call them ‘Susansnaps.’ Because I named my daughter after my late sister, this was a way to honor both of them, and it was a way to give Susan something to do, to distract her from despair.”
They set up a makeshift booth in the gourmet food section of AmericasMart Atlanta, a sprawling exposition of vendors. “We built our own booth with PVC pipe, and we built a
website with order forms,” Susan recalls. They left there with orders for 30,000 cookies. Susan says, “I thought, ‘Oh, gosh, what have we done?’”
They worked long hours to fulfill those mounting orders, but they were heartened by the snacking public’s enthusiasm. They considered hiring a public relations company, but that seemed too expensive. Besides, Susan had majored in communication and marketing at Auburn. “My education has really come in handy,” she says.
At first, she tried sending formal, boilerplate media releases, but those got little response. “So I thought: why don’t I send something straight from the heart?” Susan began mailing a flurry of handwritten letters that told the story behind the snaps. That approach won Susansnaps national recognition.
Television host Rachael Ray named them her “snack of the day.” Then, in 2007, when Susan was visiting friends in California, Laura received a phone call that she thought must be a practical joke. “I called Susan and told her, ‘Someone claiming to be from Martha Stewart’s office just called.’ Susan said, ‘Oh, yeah, I wrote to her.’ ”
Stewart’s high-end empire hosts a “Dreamers Into Doers” event each year that honors 10 achievers from across the country. Susansnaps was among the winners its inaugural year. The Stachlers next appeared on CBS-TV’s “The American Spirit.” “From that we got an order for 800 cookies to be baked in 24 hours,” Susan says, shaking her head.
Then ABC tapped the duo for an interview with anchor David Muir, and the cookies earned Oprah Winfrey’s imprimatur in O magazine.
Susansnaps today makes regular donations of cookies to cancer wards across Atlanta.
“When someone is undergoing chemo, they’re typically in the hospital for six to eight hours at a time,” says Mary Brookhart, supervisor of business operations at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. “They really are thrilled to get delicious cookies to snack on, especially around the holidays.”
Seven years ago, the entrepreneurs moved out of the garage and into a small storefront operation in Sandy Springs, a combination gift shop and bakery redolent of ginger. They ship all over the country—California ranks high in orders—and get walk-in customers who become friends.
Happily, doctors have pronounced both Susan and her father cancer-free.
“The odd reality is that none of this would’ve happened if I hadn’t had cancer,” Susan says. “During the toughest time in our lives we managed to create something that puts a smile on people’s faces, which is great. But I never forget that there are still people hooked up to those IVs, anxiously awaiting that
next report. That is part of our story.”
When Haitham Eletrabi ’13 began playing tennis about seven years ago, there was only one problem.
“I loved tennis, but I hated picking up the balls,” says Eletrabi, who is pursuing a doctorate in engineering at Auburn. “I went online to buy something, and there’s nothing to buy like it. I thought there must be a solution.
“I really didn’t want to invent it,” he says with a laugh. “I wanted to buy it.”
But Eletrabi did invent it. He pulled a team together and created the Tennibot, a Roomba-like contraption that scours a tennis court with sensors and cameras, sucking up tennis balls and depositing them into a container.
Recognizing a problem or challenge and coming up with a solution is one of the main tenets of entrepreneurship, so Eletrabi and his Tennibot fell squarely into the mission of Auburn University’s Lowder Center for Entrepreneurship and Family Business.
The center, part of the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business, offers a curriculum in entrepreneurship and family business and is the home of Tiger Cage, a business idea competition modeled after the hit ABC show “Shark Tank,” in which mega-millionaires hear pitches from entrepreneurs seeking investment partners.
That’s all come together in the past two or three years, says Lakami Baker, managing director of the Lowder Center. The Entrepreneurship Center and program had existed for a while, as had the Tiger Cage program, but the former had been mostly devoted to research and the latter was run out of the Auburn Technology Park.
“We wanted to become more outwardly engaged and really get our students more involved in entrepreneurship,” says Baker, who came to Auburn in 2008 as an assistant professor in management. “Tiger Cage had started, but there wasn’t a strong tie with the College of Business. We were training the students, but we weren’t involved in the competition itself.”
That changed when Baker was named to the newly created position of managing director.
The goal of Tiger Cage, she says, is to “inspire Auburn University students across all disciplines to explore their business ideas and try to create that entrepreneurial mindset within them.”
“In order for it to be successful, we had to provide mentoring and training to those students through the College of Business,”
Baker says. “More so,
if the idea they were currently working on wasn’t successful, we wanted them to have skills they could transfer over to some other idea or with a corporate organization.”
The center’s signature program, Tiger Cage, is a multi-month competition akin
to “Shark Tank.”
In Auburn’s version, teams of students submit a 250-word summary of their idea, a one-page business model and three PowerPoint slides. A team of judges picks 20 teams to move forward.
In the “first-pitch” round, those 20 teams have five minutes to pitch their business and five minutes to answer judges’ questions. At the end of that day, the judges cut the 20 teams down to eight.
Those eight compete in the semifinal round, and a different panel of judges cuts the teams down to four.
Those four teams present at the center’s Entrepreneurship Summit, and at the summit’s luncheon, the winners of the competition are announced, along with the Top Tigers (the fastest-growing companies founded, led or owned by Auburn alumni), the entrepreneur of the year and the young entrepreneur of the year.
At the summit, which this year will take place March 30-31 at Auburn’s Dixon Conference Center, members of the Entrepreneur Hall of Fame are also named.
Last year, the Tiger Cage winners received $10,000 to apply toward business expenses; second place received $6,000, third place received $4,000 and fourth place received $2,000.
2016’s winner was Envelope Aerospace, which developed a technology that, among other things, could extend the life of National Weather Service weather balloons. The year before, Parking Grid Technologies took top prize for an app that lets people know where to find an open parking space.
Many business students enter the Tiger Cage competition, but Baker emphasizes the program is open to all Auburn students.
“We try to encourage multidiscipline teams,” she says. “There can be teams of one, but the judges tend to favor the teams of more than one because they have greater confidence that maybe they can push their idea forward.”
Tiger Cage isn’t a unique program, Baker says. All of the Southeastern Conference schools send winners of similar competitions to compete against each other, and there are national business idea competitions that offer
huge cash prizes.
Baker says student interest in entrepreneurship seems to be growing, and that while now students can only major and minor in the discipline through the College of Business, “we’re working on opening up our entrepreneurship classes so students outside the College of Business can minor in it.”