Innovate Mississippi

Point Innovation Magazine Winter 2013

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FEATURE The Juliet Collective D E S I G N I N G C U S TO M G U I TA R P E DA L S F O R M U S I C I A N S A R O U N D T H E W O R L D Courtney Lange M ississippi is known for producing some of the world's most notable musicians, but Robbie Spears isn't one of them. Born in Meridian, Spears grew up playing the guitar but, after he broke his neck in 2000, injuries left him unable to play as well as he once had. As a part of his recovery, he bought a soldering iron in an attempt to regain his dexterity. His combined love of the six string and his interest in engineering led him to a logical place – he began building guitar pedals, a piece of gear between the guitar and amplifier that changes the instrument's sound. The more he built, the more he learned and the more eager he became to design something that was completely his own. And so he did. The Juliet Collective was born out of that process. What started as a hobby has blossomed into a boutique manufacturer of custom guitar pedals, ranging from a very high-end premium line to a more commercial-grade product. But, it did not happen overnight. By 2007, Spears was enrolled in Mississippi State University (MSU) as an electrical engineering student, continuing to build guitar pedals on the side. While there, he met his future business partner – Britt Gardner. "Britt came in as a customer and never left," said Spears. "He took a real interest in what I was doing and chose to stay around. I am so glad he did." Soon after, the two were introduced to Eric Abbott, who owned and operated an artists' collective called Cre8tive Warehouse, where local artists shared studio space. "Although what we were doing was, in some ways, different than the other artists in the group, Eric welcomed us with open arms," said Spears. "That 10x10 space became our first factory, 54 Pointe Innovation and what happened from there really changed our lives." Since that time, Abbott has been instrumental in the development of the brand, designing the logo and providing artwork for many of the pedals. Then one day, a friend came into the gallery space and told Spears about an on-campus resource called the Office of Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer (OETT). Almost on a whim, Spears found the office, went in and met Gerald Nelson, the center's director. Today, Nelson is one of Spears' mentors. Nelson said he was impressed with Spears from the first moment the two met. "Robbie worked day and night to make The Juliet Collective successful," said Nelson. "I truly believe that Robbie is a success already and that his business acumen will continue to grow as he develops his business. Robbie did more for OETT and MSU entrepreneurship than we did for him."OETT serves to protect, manage and accelerate the commercialization of university-owned and student-generated intellectual property, facilitating their transition into the marketplace for the purposes of commercialization. "Not only was I unaware that the OETT existed, I was unaware that I needed it," said Spears. "It has played such a major part in our business up to this point, I shudder to think what would have happened had I never walked through those doors." At this point, Spears realized that while he was good at the electrical design component of the business, he lacked business sense. "You have a lot of hoops you have to jump through as a company trying to compete," he said. "OETT provided me with direction and guidance in that way. With their help, I changed my major

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