Founders’ Friday: Mark Evans, MoWerks
Today’s Founders’ Friday is all about Mark Evans and his success as the founder of MoWerks. I enjoyed learning about the exciting projects his company is currently working on and hope you will too!
RC: Tell me a little bit about your company.
ME: MoWerks is an instruction design firm. We build custom content for all levels of training from basic e-Reader information quizzes to fully immersive virtual worlds where you create an avatar that earns badges and shows that you have progressed in your knowledge base for your company.
RC: What led you to founding your company?
ME: We have three founding partners: myself (the managing partner), Dr. Mike Orey (who was my mentor professor at the university), and Josh Squires (who takes care of our international business in the Middle East and North Africa area). We were presented with a project for Walt Disney. Josh and I were graduate students and Mike was under contract with the university. Anything we did for Disney would have been UGA’s intellectual property. We had to think quickly and decided to start MoWerks. It allowed us to accept the contract with Disney while allowing Disney to keep their intellectual property rights.
RC: What was your inspiration for starting an instructional design firm?
ME: We all love teaching and training. All three of us are former teachers in social studies, math, or technology. It wasn’t really that big of a jump for us to move into the business sector from the academic sector. To be honest with you, when we started MoWerks we thought that we would do the Disney project, let the company fizzle out, and go back to academic work. But we did such a good job with Disney that we got contracts with McGraw Hill, different career colleges all over the country, and started doing a lot more international work. We got partnerships with different firms like one in Italy with probably the best learning management system on the market today. We just grew.
RC: What has been the biggest challenge so far?
ME: Having to say no to really cool projects because we are already very busy. We aren’t just going to take a project just for projects sake. We’ve gotten to a point where we are a little spoiled. We are able to take projects that we think are going to have an impact on our community, our employees, and even the world.
RC: What are some examples of the projects you are currently working on?
ME: We have a huge project right now called the Georgia Virtual History Project. There is a new company in town called Immersive Humanities which is in partnership with the Wilson Center out of the University of Georgia. We are working with them to create a virtual world in which the state of Georgia will be represented from the time the settlers landed in Savannah to today. There is actually a trailer for the Georgia Virtual History Project that we have produced on the MoWerks channel on YouTube. For me, GVHP was a dream project. My best friend, Dr. Christopher Lawton from the Wilson Center, and I had a discussion about history one day and how public history is inaccessible to some people. Academic history from a textbook is just so boring. That’s really how this whole thing started. He started a class in public history, and we took the information from that and built the first prototype for GVHP. The components for GVHP are massive. The tech side is big, but we also have the Athens Academy side where we are working with Dr. Randy Reid. He is teaching a class for seniors at Athens Academy where the work that the students do will be translated into the Georgia Virtual History Project.
Underneath GVHP there is a project called 150-50. Next year is the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in Georgia, but it is also the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act being passed. Georgia is one of those states that had leadership in the Civil Rights movement with Dr. King, John Lewis, and others in metro Atlanta. We will be creating augmented reality story caches where people will be able to go from Chattanooga, TN all the way to Savannah and see aspects of the Civil War. They will be able to go to Atlanta, Albany, Columbus, Macon, and see the birth of the Civil Rights movement. At Ebeneezer Baptist Church you can take your smart device, put it on the steps, and see raw footage of Dr. King walking down the steps. It will seem like you are standing right where he would have been. It’s an amazing experience. I get goosebumps.
RC: How did you come up with the name for your company?
ME: We had about 48 hours to get this corporation up and running for us to be able to do the project for Disney. We met with a lawyer who said we needed a name. Mike Orey had something called MoSystems, and Josh and I had Training Werks. So we took the Mo and Werks, smashed them together, and came up with MoWerks learning. We also have Augmented Reality Werks (ARWerks) and Game Werks. Game Werks teaches kids 11-17 how to create their own games. They go through the video game process and learn basic skills in Java and Flash. It’s a pretty easy language to get kids involved in.
RC: What have you learned from starting you own company?
ME: We are very conscious of thinking forward. You always have to be that step ahead. For instance, augmented reality has been around for ten years but no one really knows how to use it. With the 150-50 project we are going to be giving this app away to everyone. Not only will the historical places benefit from visiting people but so will the small businesses located around them that can buy into the app. For example we are creating a campaign for Mama’s Boy to showcase their specials. When somebody goes to the arch Mama’s Boy will pop-up on the app.
RC: What advice would you give other startups?
ME: Find somebody you can trust with your money. We’ve gone through a couple of different bookkeepers. We’ve found that bookkeepers sometimes like to believe that it is their company. They don’t have the vision that you and your partners have and sometimes go a little rogue. When you hire an employee you need to have a defined set of expectations.
RC: What has been the best part of the process?
ME: Watching really cool stuff be created. You have this idea in your head and then that idea becomes reality. It is cool to make something you’ve work hard on happen. Watching the GVHP project grow from a 2-D model to becoming its own living breathing world is amazing to see.
RC: What past experience do you think has helped with founding your own company?
ME: Besides being a teacher, I was in the army so that has been very helpful. You have to be very disciplined. You have to know how to work with people especially when you have employees. We have 6 core employees and about 80 contractors who work for us at different times. You have to be disciplined in your communication with people. You have to know certain peoples’ strengths and weaknesses. Mike has been in academia for almost thirty years, so he is really in tune with the newest and latest research. We are able to take his knowledge and translate it into our learning process. Josh has a lot of world experience dealing with international markets and different cultures. He actually lives in Beirut, so he is able to work with different cultures pretty seamlessly.
RC: Are you originally from Athens?
ME: I moved here from Baltimore, Maryland. After I graduated from high school, I was in the army at Fort Benny, GA then went to Maryland. When I went to Maryland, I got my degree in history and wanted to be a history teacher.
RC: Has Athens been a good place to start your company?
ME: It’s been great because of the talent pool we are able to draw from especially from the student ranks. It’s a lot cheaper for us to hire graduate students who are in the design and technology program. We also have a lot of talented artists and programmers that we can meet up with. There are a lot of aspects of Athens that make it a great place to start a company such as places like Four Athens. We are able to connect with Jim, and he is able to put me in contact with people we need.
RC: What are you most proud of about you company?
ME: That we’ve been in business for five years! We started our company about six days before the tech bubble burst. But we have been very blessed. We have made some mistakes, everybody does, but we have been able to rebound from our mistakes and move forward.
RC: Is there anything else you would like readers to know about your company?
ME: We have a great website! If you have any training needs just give us a holler. We will be glad to talk and come up with a strategy. We are always willing to help out starting companies.
Watch the Georgia Virtual History Project Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYhylNwaaAw