Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business

Clemson MBA alums test the limits, secure funding to further TestedHQ startup in S.C.


COO Austin Clark (left) and CEO Michael D'Onofrio (right) are the co-founders of Mauldin-based TestedHQ
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Two Clemson MBA alums have put their skills to the test to launch TestedHQ, a product-development testing firm that connects developers with end users to give real-world product feedback, helping get the next innovation on store shelves faster. Michael D’Onofrio, CEO, and Austin Clark, COO, are the Mauldin, South Carolina-based startup founders who launched the company in 2020 after graduating from the Clemson University MBA program. Three short years later, South Carolina Research Authority’s investment affiliate SC Launch Inc. awarded the company $300,000 to fund expansion as they continue redefining the market-research industry. So far, they are acing the test. The two entrepreneurs credit the Clemson Experience and connections they made that have taken them to this point.

While they view Clemson as the springboard into TestedHQ’s success, D’Onofrio and Clark’s story begins years before either of them enrolled in the MBA program. The two met while working at a large product development company – D’Onofrio on the development side and Clark on the engineering side. “We were the low men on the totem pole,” says D’Onofrio. “We’d spend many late nights working together to test out products. One time, we needed to test how long a garage door battery would last, so we sat there all night, opening and closing the door while we counted. We got to 133 before it died!” At the time, the two never anticipated launching their own company. “We’d grab beers after work and have fun together,” Clark adds. “I never would have thought we’d go into business together, but it’s been an amazing journey so far.”

Eventually, D’Onofrio and Clark’s careers took them in different directions. However, the duo would soon cross paths again. While D’Onofrio enjoyed product development, he felt his work in the corporate sector wasn’t reaching his maximum potential. “My job was to advocate for the end user,” explains D’Onofrio. “However, the way the corporate world was structured, I never felt I could get enough feedback from end users to make the important decisions that would drive product development. I wanted to learn more about what the real-world users of these products needed so we could create something to better enhance their lives.”

D’Onofrio began considering the idea of starting his own business, a different concept than TestedHQ at the time, but he didn’t know where to start. “I had more questions than answers,” says D’Onofrio. “So, I started considering MBA programs to learn what I needed to know.” However, D’Onofrio found that most MBA curriculums catered to the corporate sector until his mom shared an ad for the Clemson MBAe. “I was at my mom’s house, and she pushed the ad for Clemson across the kitchen table,” adds D’Onofrio. “I spoke to Kristin Hawk and Jamie Patterson and loved that the entrepreneurship & innovation track aligned with my goals to start my own company and get the information and tools I needed. I ended up gaining so much more than I expected.”

While D’Onofrio enrolled in the MBAe to launch a pre-planned concept, a new spark ignited an idea he couldn’t shake. “I kept coming back to how I could improve upon the product development work I loved so much,” says D’Onofrio. “I had these early notions for what would become TestedHQ that I needed to work out and get on paper. I had lunch with my professor, Joe Gibson, who encouraged me to go for it. I ended up pitching it for the EnterPrize Awards and won, so I knew I had something worth exploring. But after graduation, I chickened out and went back to the corporate sector for a while.”

Clark had a different approach in mind when he started his Clemson journey. “I was coming from a mechanical engineering background,” starts Clark. “I liked the security of working with a big team, but I wanted to climb the corporate ladder faster. I saw the Clemson MBA as a way to fast-track my path to a VP of Engineering position. However, fate had other things planned.”

While Clark was busy with coursework, D’Onofrio was contemplating his next career move. “I was losing sleep over TestedHQ,” he explains. “I knew this was such a good idea, and I kept feeling pressure to just leap into entrepreneurship once and for all.”

Everything would change in September 2020 when Matthew Klein, DBA, called up D’Onofrio to speak to his strategic management class about innovation in the corporate world and his idea for TestedHQ. Clark signed into class and was surprised to find his old-time co-worker and friend D’Onofrio sharing his amazing vision for TestedHQ with his cohort. He picked up the phone before the lecture was even done. “Austin immediately had me on the phone after I pitched TestedHQ, and we both had to mute ourselves because the class was still going,” says D’Onofiro. “He really didn’t give me a choice in the matter. Before I knew it, he was doing all this work and research for me, and we were discussing becoming business partners.” Clark also surprised himself with his deviation from his original course. “I went into the MBA program to advance my corporate career,” he says. “But I discovered that entrepreneurship is just more fun. Klein’s course was one of the last classes I took in the program, but it was instrumental in my career. He’s still a mentor to us both.”

D’Onofrio and Clark made the leap, taking TestedHQ from an idea and betting on it as the next move in their careers. “The first project we ever got was a client who wanted 100 electricians to test their new project,” says D’Onofrio. “We spent our nights scouring the internet and social media to build what would become our first database of end users. Things were really starting to take off and get real.”

The team realized that if they were going to continue to grow TestedHQ, they needed the right funding. When exploring options, they wanted to stay rooted in South Carolina. So, they pitched to the South Carolina Research Authority and became a SCRA Member Company in 2021, receiving a $25,000 Project Development Fund Grant and a $50,000 Acceleration Grant later that year. “Clemson exposed us to many local support networks like the SCRA,” says D’Onofrio. “While it would have been easy to have accepted grants from big cities, we’re steadfast in contributing to South Carolina’s development, and the SCRA was a great fit. Those initial investments were instrumental in getting our business off the ground during its first year, from growing our team to building our software portal. I’ve seen the growth in South Carolina through the years, and it’s fun to be a part of that.” Clark adds, “Clemson and the SCRA are very much ingrained in the startup system here. There’s a community that starts to build, and that makes our business even stronger.”

“The team at TestedHQ has a passion for creating products and processes that dramatically capture expert opinions about how new products perform and how they can be further improved. The company integrates into their clients’ product development process and provides them quality input so that when the finished product is launched, its potential for success is substantially higher,” says SCRA Investment Manager Steve Johnson. “They’ve found a way to improve products before they even hit the shelves.”

D’Onofrio and Clark pictured with $300,000 investment from Steve Johnson, SCRA investment manager

This year, TestedHQ became a SC Launch Inc. Portfolio Company, receiving a $300,000 investment to expand the concept even further. “What’s funny is Michael actually had to deliver his investment pitch virtually because he was on his honeymoon,” injects Clark. Luckily, the pitch paid off for the team. “This was an impactful investment to our growth and scale,” says D’Onofrio. “Plus, it means a lot to know that we can trust the SCRA, and they genuinely want to see us succeed.”

“TestedHQ started from a thirst to improve product development. They brought engineering and management backgrounds from other positions, and their passion is evident in their rapid growth,” says SCRA Executive Director Bob Quinn. “We’re excited to support their continued success.”

Now that the team is done testing the waters, they’ve made it their mission for TestedHQ to reshape the product development world. “We want to continue to build our tech and database and change how this work is conducted to create better products for the end users,” says Clark. With the support to do so, they are well on their way. “It’s our goal to keep growing,” concludes D’Onofrio. “We’re riding this rocketship and feeding it the fuel it needs to go.”

Learn more about Clemson’s MBA in entrepreneurship & innovation.

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