UM Graduates Selected for Prestigious Business Development Program

Developers of Curtsy dress rental app headed to Silicon Valley to expand venture

Students listed left to right; (back row) Sara Kiparizoska, Manuel Cubillo, William Ault, Eli Allen, Jake Johnson, Mary Margaret Tardy (front row) Clara Agnes Ault, Haley Vassios, Allie Seay

The full Curtsy team listed left to right; (back row) Sara Kiparizoska, Manuel Cubillo, William Ault, Eli Allen, Jake Johnson, Mary Margaret Tardy (front row) Clara Agnes Ault, Haley Vassios, Allie Seay

OXFORD, Miss. – Two University of Mississippi graduates have landed major support from a Silicon Valley business incubator as they work to expand their mobile platform that helps college students rent formalwear to and from fellow students.

Sara Kiparizoska, of Laurel, who graduated earlier this month with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, and William Ault, a 2015 graduate in computer science from Charlotte, North Carolina, created an app called Curtsy that helps university students rent their formalwear or other clothes.

Curtsy is among 100 startups chosen for a summer program at the Y Combinator, one of the country’s best-known and successful business incubators and accelerators. Companies such as Dropbox and Airbnb have their roots there. This is the first time a Mississippi company has been chosen by the investment group.

“We are thrilled to be accepted and now will be moving to California,” Ault said. “Y Combinator has the most successful model in starting high-impact, high-growth companies. We are excited for the opportunity to refine our product and grow as fast as possible.”

Y Combinator will provide seed funding of $120,000 in exchange for 7 percent equity in each startup company that satisfactorily completes the three-month program.

Ault, Kiparizoska and their team are moving to California for the summer to immerse themselves in the entrepreneurial and technological culture of Silicon Valley. They’ll exchange ideas and experiences with similar companies, learn all they can and work to build Curtsy into the premier platform in their market.

Eli Allen,David Oates and William Ault

Eli Allen,David Oates and William Ault

Curtsy’s story began in early 2015, when Kiparizoska was going to a formal social event but found herself without a dress that matched the occasion. She’d previously borrowed dresses from friends but this time couldn’t find one she liked.

“I thought, ‘Wow, I wish there was a way to see everyone’s closets in Oxford,'” Kiparizoska said.

She initially thought she would create a website, but when she mentioned the idea to Ault, her roommate’s brother, he had an idea that would make the platform more accessible.

“William, being the entrepreneurial mind that he is, said, ‘Everyone has their phone with them all the time. Let’s make an app instead,'” she said.

Curtsy iOS LLC was born.

The business got off the ground at Insight Park, the university’s research park, where Ault had interned, working with other student-led startups in the facility’s incubator. He knew Insight Park could provide the resources and entrepreneurial atmosphere to help their young company grow.

By honing their idea through the university’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship student competitions and receiving seed money from the Rebel Venture Capital Fund, Ault and Kiparizoska put together a team and successfully launched Curtsy in January 2016.

The app is widely used in the Oxford area. Some 3,100 people have signed up for it and 2,100 dresses have been posted, generating 300 rentals in the last 100 days.

Expansion has already begun to the Southeastern Conference towns of Starkville; Athens, Georgia; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and Columbia, South Carolina. Plans call for Curtsy to expand to the rest of the SEC this summer.

With the app’s increasing popularity and user base, the developers knew they were ready to take the next step. They applied to Y Combinator, knowing that Curtsy’s application was far from a sure thing. Of roughly 6,000 applicants, only 100 startups were chosen for the summer program.

Although the company is moving and Ault is excited about the program and opportunities for guidance under Y Combinator, Curtsy’s roots are at Ole Miss, he said.

“We went from students with an idea to a company raising venture capital from large firms in California,” Ault said. “We’re two years into our overnight success. There were plenty of points when we could’ve turned away, but we’ve poured our lives into this project, and the hard work is just starting.”

University and Insight Park officials are confident of the group’s success.

“William and Sara are outstanding entrepreneurs,” said William Nicholas, UM director of economic development and Insight Park. “Both of them are very bright and high achievers, but they are also quick to seek and accept advice when necessary. They demonstrate many of the key characteristics of successful entrepreneurs, and I am confident they will be very successful.”

After the summer program concludes, Kiparizoska plans to continue working with the team this fall while attending medical school at the UM Medical Center in Jackson.