By BECKY GILLETTE
Speaking at the Discovery Luncheon Feb. 12 co-sponsored by Innovate Mississippi and the Oxford-Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Foundation, Garret Gray, president and CEO of Next Gear Solutions, shared the story of how their technology startup, Next Gear Solutions, has grown to 80 full-time employees since its beginnings in 2008.
The Discovery Luncheon preceded Startup Weekend Oxford, a 54-hour marathon weekend event where potential entrepreneurs come to together to form teams, develop business ideas, present the ideas to potential investors, and win prizes to help their companies grow.
Allen Kurr, vice president of the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation, said hearing the story of Next Gear Solutions was a perfect way to encourage other business entrepreneurs.
“Next Gear Solutions has really grown immensely over the past couple years coming out of our business incubator, the Oxford Enterprise Center,” Kurr said. “Seeing where they have gone from a little, 6,000-square-foot-space in that incubator to now well over 80 employees is an Oxford success story we really pride ourselves on. The company has strong leadership through Garrett Gray and his team. They really exemplify what Oxford is doing regarding tech startups, entrepreneurship, and growing the economic base of Oxford from within.”
Although Gray and other top business leaders are under 40 years of age, they have demonstrated how creativity and hard work—plus meeting unmet needs—can spell business success.
“This is the company of the future,” Kurr said. “They are growing by leaps and bounds. We are very lucky to have them in this community.”
Next Gear Solutions is a software as a service company in the insurance restoration contracting industry.
“Our software suite serves all of the restoration contracting industry including individual contractors, franchised contractors, corporate franchisor offices, TPA (third-party administrator) offices, insurance carriers, and home or business owners with claims,” Gray said. “All of our support, training, development, design, marketing, and administration is done in-house by Next Gear Solutions employees or contractors, and our home office is in Oxford, with our technology office in Alpharetta, GA, and client services mostly in southern California.”
Next Gear started as SHIFT in 2008, a full-service consulting firm dedicated to improving the businesses of their restoration contractor clients. They launched DASH, their first software, in 2009 as a response to lack of technology options in their industry.
Scottye Carter-Dewey, director of operations for Next Gear Solutions, is an Ole Miss graduate who has been with the company since it had only three employees.
“Sometimes I look around and wonder what in the world happened,” Carter-Dewey said. “There have been a few factors that led to our quick growth. The industry we serve, restoration contracting, did not have many viable options when it came to technology. So there was a gap we were able to fill quickly. Because we started as consultants and our CEO, Garret, was already very well versed on the ins and outs of our industry, we were able to capitalize on that knowledge to create a software that really answered the needs of a restoration contractor.”
She also attributes the success to sheer will and determination.
“We were a small but dedicated group at the beginning, and we have worked very hard to maintain an internal culture that takes care of employees, recognizes the importance of fun and laughter, and drives creative and innovative solutions,” she said. “In addition, we saw ways in which we could approach our industry from the top down as well as the bottom up, and developed software for franchisors as well as their franchisee offices so that we were able to expand our reach more quickly.”
While there are many generic software suites a contractor may use to help run parts of their business, Carter-Dewey said they are one of the few that touches nearly all aspects of their work and syncs with software in their industry that services aspects they don’t actively address ourselves.
“As a result, using our software makes data entry and work flow very efficient for the contractor,” she said. “Because we use our knowledge about the industry and changing best practices in insurance and restoration to guide feature development, we are also able to address specific concerns for contractors in a way generic software packages cannot.”
About 50 of their 80 full-time employees are based in Oxford. Being able to draw talent from the university has been a favorable factor, as has been the support from the community.
“Oxford has been very kind to us,” Carter-Dewey said. “The Oxford Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Foundation in particular have been very generous in helping us to get a good footing early on, and they continue to support our expansion efforts.”
A big focus for the company this year is to go even more global. While they have some international clients in Canada, Australia, and Germany, they are looking to expand in Europe, particularly in the UK and Germany.
“In addition, we are building more layers into our software suite so that we can better analyze the data that has been gathered over the years,” she said. “Our dispatch call center will also be growing this year as we take on more independent clients who will have their incoming claims called into our center so we can directly input the information into their database in our software. We aim to repeat the growth we had in 2015 so we can make an even bigger impact on our industry in the future.”
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