Madison St. Gelais won first place in the 2021 Clemson MBAe EnterPrize Awards competition for her community-driven lifestyle pet brand, Modern Companion.
Clemson’s EnterPrize Awards is a pitch competition and capstone course where students enrolled in the MBA in Entrepreneurship & Innovation program have the chance to sell their business ideas to an audience of venture capitalists and successful entrepreneurs. The competition takes place over 3 rounds, allowing students to practice pitching while receiving feedback and revising their presentations.
Madison, a 2021 MBAe grad with a BFA from SUNY Oswego, captured the judges’ attention with Modern Companion. This community-driven lifestyle brand creates and curates products for stylish pets and their humans.
For Madison, Clemson’s MBAe program and EnterPrize Awards were empowering experiences. “I had a misconception that successful entrepreneurs are analytical rather than creative, and that creatives were not suited for entrepreneurship,” she explains. “I was lucky to find that the Clemson MBA program caters to working professionals with diverse backgrounds.”
Modern Companion was inspired by Madison’s two dalmatians, Domino and Blaze. “I started the company because there was a lack of variety in the sizes and styles of pet accessories,” said Madison. “Too many companies had designs focused on being masculine or feminine, or only offered flashy colors which did not suit our two spotted dogs. I wanted to create designs that could accentuate a pet’s natural grace and elegance.”
Madison began building her business by making 15,000 handmade products and developing an online presence. She did this while working full-time as a user experience designer for a software company and studying part-time as an MBAe student at Clemson.
Today, Modern Companion has taken the pet accessory world by storm. Madison built an online following of over 20,000 fans, operates an e-commerce store, opened her first brick-and-mortar store and manufacturing facility, supplies products to over 60 retailers, and manages a team of six employees.
While the pet accessory market has grown into a $14 billion industry, the retail space is competitive. Madison contributes her success to creating a unique customer experience, understanding her customer base, and sourcing local materials and artists that set her products apart. She adds, “In this day and age, you can’t be boring when it comes to running a brick-and-mortar store. It goes beyond just having great products and customer service. You need to sell an experience.”
Madison shares that winning the 9th annual EnterPrize Awards was an incredible experience that has allowed her to assess the progress she’s made since January 2019, when she enrolled in Clemson’s MBAe program and launched her business.
“There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the passion and dedication that I poured into my company being recognized and honored. It motivates me and gives me a sense of purpose,” reflects Madison. “Winning the competition has changed my outlook on what it means to be an entrepreneur. Modern Companion will continue to provide innovative accessories and products both online and in our new storefront, and the prize money from the competition will be going towards expanding our business and supporting new projects.”
Currently, pet owners can shop Modern Companion at the retail space in Chapin, South Carolina, or online at themoderncompanion.com.
Second and third place EnterPrize Award recipients include:
2nd Place Winner: Mary McElya – Awarded $3,000
Mary’s idea is My Relief Wear, patent-pending cold therapy clothing that aids in the relief of painful aches while providing easy mobility. The designs feature built-in anti-leak ice packs, allowing users to ice their joints while on the move. myreliefwear.com
3rd Place Winner: Colin Gallagher – Awarded $2,000
Colin launched Save Clemson Track and Field, an organization of Clemson alumni, former track members, current team members, and track fans fighting for opportunities for young men with diverse backgrounds to earn a college degree by saving the track and field program at Clemson. Saveclemsontf.com
The 2021 EnterPrize Awards judges included:
Mallory Jones MBAe ’14, Founder of Rinnovo Studio
David Grisell MBAe ’19, Founder of uMedMarket; Angel Investor
Drew Felty MBAe ’14, Founder of Package Insight; Angel Investor
Darryl McCune MBAe ’14, Founder of CommunityCode
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