Good Company

Alumnus Helps Start-Ups Find Success

By Charles Buchanan

0812_cypress2UAB alumnus Drew Goneke (left) and Matthew Dyar (center) of South Cypress are working with UAB alumnus Matt Wright (right) to realize their big idea: an Internet-based flooring company. Wright has helped several entrepreneurs launch Birmingham-based startup companies.

Look around, right now. Could the person sitting next to you have the idea for the next Facebook or Amazon inside his or her head? Matt Wright’s mission is to unlock those ideas and help potential entrepreneurs create vibrant new companies.

After graduating from the UAB School of Business in 2001 with a finance degree, Wright worked his way up the banking ladder, working on an equity trading desk and managing a hedge fund. Eventually he founded NuVault Financial, which specializes in management consulting and investment banking. “I advise small companies on ways to grow their business through finance, efficiencies, or everyday operations,” says Wright. He also serves as associate director of the Birmingham Angel Network, an organization of business leaders who invest resources and expertise in local start-up companies.

“Globalization is here, and the only way for the United States to compete is through innovation,” Wright says. “Our goal in the Angel Network is to help these new companies on the front end, mentoring entrepreneurs who may not understand how to commercialize an idea. I tell them that starting a business and running a business are two different things. You’ve got to understand the differences in order to be successful.”

Getting Off the Ground Floor

Currently, Wright is helping a local company called South Cypress develop an online marketplace for tile, stone, hardwoods, and other flooring materials. The company has its roots in a brick-and-mortar flooring retailer founded in Mobile in 1952, says CEO Drew Goneke. Inspired by his father, grandfather, and uncle to follow in their entrepreneurial footsteps, Goneke, a 2005 UAB graduate, partnered with chief information officer Matthew Dyar to launch an online storefront that could establish a national customer base.

Wright was impressed by the company’s approach to selling products that the consumer wouldn’t be able to touch. “What they’ve created through their web site is as realistic as you’re going to get, and they continue to refine it,” he says. “The industry is so ingrained in its habits, and South Cypress is turning it on its head.”

Wright describes his role with South Cypress as “outsourced chief financial officer,” but he also works with Goneke on developing big-picture strategies and with Dyar on details such as accounting functions. In addition, Wright advises the company’s two leaders on matters related to marketing, purchasing, cash management, and other logistics of running a growing business.

Today the Internet division has spun off from the Mobile store and has grown to 10 employees serving customers across the country. South Cypress also was named to the Inc. 500 list, a compilation of America’s fastest-growing private companies. “We’re just now starting to ramp up,” Wright says. “Our goal is to make South Cypress as big of a brand as we can.”

Start Me Up

Wright also sees the wider impact of successful start-ups. Birmingham as a whole has the potential to reinvent itself as an “innovation hub,” he says, explaining that the city’s cheap rents and idea-generating institutions such as UAB can help fuel the rise of small, emerging companies. “The ideas are floating around here, and by making them happen, we can make a great town even better,” he says.

That’s why Wright encourages anyone with a cutting-edge idea—including your daydreaming neighbor—to talk about it with a mentor. “Don’t be afraid,” he advises. “Reach out to people around you who are involved in business, including people you wouldn’t normally consider. Resources to do that are all over the city. You never know when a chance meeting might lead to something.

“Bouncing those ideas off people and talking about them is how you figure out if there’s a business there,” Wright says. “It’s how companies start.”

UAB helped transform Birmingham into a nexus of medicine, business, research and development, and our partnership is cemented by a shared vision for better education, health and quality of life and a common belief we can establish Alabama as a progressive economic center that can change the world.

Our intellectual achievements are essential to that. The business of technology-transfer — moving basic research discoveries to the marketplace — contributes tens of millions of dollars to the state economy through product licensing and spin-off companies. And the business incubator Innovation Depot has helped its 92 tenant companies reach $1.4 billion sales during the past five years.

In short, our total annual impact is about $5 billion. That breaks down to a return of more than $20 in jobs and economic development for every dollar Alabama invests in UAB.

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