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Andrews Launch Accelerator Start-Up WAAM Finds New Home in The St. James

By Caroline Barnhill

The global fitness market is a multi-billion dollar industry, which continues to grow and evolve year after year. As with many other industries, the COVID pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technology by fitness companies as they seek to find new ways to engage customers.

And it may be a key reason why WAAM, started by NC State alumna and former Andrews Launch Accelerator graduate Karly Pavlinac, was such an attractive acquisition target for Washington, D.C.-based sports, entertainment & wellness destination, The St. James.

WAAM, which stands for “We Are a Movement,” is an app that gives users access to top fitness trainers and gives trainers all the tools they need to capitalize on their business. Users have the opportunity to select a variety of fitness activities – from ballet to CrossFit – and not only receive fitness instruction, but also learn from leading fitness experts on how they start their day or how they find inspiration in their daily lives.

Pavlinac came up with the concept for WAAM in 2017 and knew she needed insight and resources to turn her idea into a business. 

“I reached out to some business faculty I knew from receiving a minor in business from the Poole College of Management and they connected me with Lewis Sheats and Gabe Gonzales,” Pavlinac remembers. 

“From the first time I met Karly, it was obvious that she had a hunger and drive that would lead to her success. It was obvious that she would be a great participant in the accelerator,” says Sheats, assistant vice provost for entrepreneurship and executive director of the Entrepreneurship Clinic. “And Karly continues to impress me with her grit and passion.”

The Andrews Launch Accelerator is a 14-week summer program that provides NC State founders, like Pavlinac, the opportunity to jumpstart their entrepreneurial journey – providing participants with the funding, resources and guidance necessary to take their startup to the next level.

“When I started the program, WAAM was in its very early stages. I was hoping for some guidance and funding,” Pavlinac says. “But what I ended up receiving was a complete, full-on learning experience about how to start and run a business. It gave me the foundation I needed to grow this company.”

In May 2019, WAAM received a $500,000 investment from Cofounders Capital investor David Gardner – whom she met as part of the Andrews Launch Accelerator program – which allowed her to get her company off the ground. And in January 2021, Pavlinac was approached by executives at The St. James.

“What started out as a discussion about a potential partnership quickly escalated with The St. James expressing an interest in acquiring the company,” Pavlinac says. “They were looking for the technology that we had to offer, and we were excited about the opportunity to have access to their team and resources. It will allow us to grow more quickly than we could do alone.”

As part of the acquisition, Pavlinac accepted a role as The St. James director of digital product development, which will allow her to continue growing WAAM – the app she worked so hard to get off the ground.

And she credits Sheats, eClinic program manager Gonzalez, NC State alumnus Robert “Chip” Andrews – who established the Andrews Launch Accelerator program in 2016, along with seasoned local startup investor Tom Collopy for helping her get there.

“I wouldn’t be here without the program. It was so helpful to participate in weekly meetings where we’d discuss certain business-related topics and get to hear from experts in those areas,” Pavlinac says. “So not only could I network with industry leaders, but I also learned a lot from my fellow cohort members. Being able to talk through our questions and struggles together, even if we were in completely different industries, was so valuable to me as a young business owner.”

Sheats believes stories like Pavlinac’s show the power of entrepreneurship at NC State and Poole College.

“The Andrews Accelerator is a great example of how we can nurture and develop young entrepreneurs at NC State,” he says. “Like Karly, our entrepreneurs will develop value in the ecosystem in the form of job creation and solutions to everyday problems. It’s a phenomenal program that represents why NC State continues to be recognized as one of the top universities for entrepreneurship across the country.” 

This post was originally published in Poole College of Management News.

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