Story of Entrepreneurship Prevails Amongst Discouraging Voices

REDe keynote speaker offers hope and encouragement to tomorrow's leaders

Ashlee Ammons, co-founder of Mixtroz, addresses the audience at the second annual REDe Entrepreneurship Summit. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Besides having a killer idea, perhaps the most critical factor in launching a new business is making sure you’re in the right location for your venture to flourish, the co-founder of a rising networking technology firm told students recently at the University of Mississippi.

“As an entrepreneur, part of your job is finding the ecosystem that you fit into,” said Ashlee Ammons, co-founder and chief operating officer of Mixtroz, a startup based in Birmingham, Alabama. Ammons and her mother, Kerry Schrader, were the 37th and 38th black women to raise at least $1 million in seed funding for a tech venture.

She was the keynote speaker Nov. 14 at the second annual REDe Entrepreneurship Summit, a conference sponsored by the UM Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to encourage, celebrate and enhance entrepreneurial endeavors among Ole Miss students.

Ammons named her business Mixtroz by combining “mixture” and “introduction.” The concept grew from a desire to develop better networking events.

“I had to go to an event where I was supposed to talk to the people that had the same color dot as me on their name tag,” she said. “Needless to say, it was awkward, and I didn’t do it.”

After this event she called her mother, who had spent more than 25 years working in human resources for large companies including Ford, Alcoa and Sears Holdings Corp. They discussed why it is so hard for people to network and get to know one another, but they came up empty-handed after Googling for solutions to the problem.

Following this conversation on Nov. 9, 2014, they created the concept of Mixtroz.

“I’m what is known as a quad outsider, which means I don’t have a background in technology,” Ammons said. “But I took what I knew from business, and everything else was pretty ‘Google-able.'”

For the next year-and-a-half, Schrader worked full time on Mixtroz in Nashville, while Ammons spent nights and weekends on the concept from New York.

“It was a disaster,” Ammons said. “You quickly find out that there is no such thing as a half-time entrepreneur.”

With the realization that she either had to be completely in or out, Ammons quit her job in New York and moved to Nashville to commit herself fully to the business. It was there that the mother-daughter duo heard countless times that Mixtroz would not get off the ground.

“We constantly kept hearing, ‘Good idea, but you’re a black woman in the South; it’s not going to happen for you in tech,'” Ammons said.

Wisely, the partners ignored the pessimists. After Ammons entered, and won, a pitch competition in Birmingham, they decided to move.

Since the move, Mixtroz has started to take off, earning countless accolades. Some of these include becoming a certified woman-owned business and attracting big-name investors such as Steve Case, Jeff Bezos and Sarah Blakley.

“We believed that Ashlee’s story (and) entrepreneurial journey was relatable to our students,” said Tong Meng, CIE director of programs. “We hope she can help our students see different options for their career planning.”

Ammons’ core advice is simple.

“Entrepreneurship is a marathon,” she said. “You have to use a healthy dose of what you learn in the classroom and common sense.”