If you think marketing and entrepreneurship pertains only to business, guess again. Bjorn Simmons will tell you that entrepreneurial spirit and a know-how attitude can effect change in many aspects of life, whether it’s helping free a man wrongfully imprisoned or creating a tool that can benefit businesses globally.
Simmons speaks from experience.
He has used his marketing management degree from the Sam M. Walton College of Business to effect change in the world of politics for the Georgia House of Representatives, drawing from his leadership skills he honed while at the University of Arkansas. He served many roles with the university’s Center for Multicultural and Diversity Education, including as president of Connections, a mentoring program that connected freshmen with upper-classmen.
Following graduation in 2011, he got involved with Georgia politics, where he eventually became chief of staff and served on several projects, including one that got an innocent man out of prison with reparations from the state to rebuild his life.
“What politics allowed me to do was work with key influencers and decision-makers to make impactful decisions for social good,” Simmons says. “It’s entrepreneurial in that you had to make your own judgment and persistence. What you put into it is what you got out of it, like running a business.”
Jumping into the world of startups hadn’t entered Bjorn Simmons’ mind. At least, not until Simmons’ old classmate and friend from the Walton College, Stedmon Harper, invited him to do an experiential marketing campaign for a startup founded by Natasia Malaihollo, a University of California at Berkeley graduate. The three teamed up to participate in the 2014 South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas.
“I found this world of startups – innovation meets entrepreneurship,” Simmons says. “I was fascinated and knew I had to be a part of it.”
While the startup they presented at SXSW didn’t take off, another one did. Within the next four months, Simmons left Atlanta along with his political career to move to Syracuse, New York, to launch with Harper and Malaihollo the startup Wyzerr (an edgy play on the word “wiser”), a software program that approaches online survey taking differently: it makes it fun, fast and easy like a game. Unlike many online surveys, which require participants to read questions and then answer by selecting radio buttons, Wyzerr has them performing activities similar to those found with video games as they answer the questions. As a result, the survey taker is more likely to answer several questions honestly within a short time span, enabling valuable real-time data.
In their journey, Wyzerr continued to win both pitch and startup competitions and has been stationed in several cities in the United States, including Los Angeles, but found a home in Covington, Kentucky, located across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Ohio. There, Wyzerr participated in an accelerator program where the founders raised $1.5 million dollars and expanded their staff from three to 12. In developing their software, Wyzerr has worked with several businesses, including Walmart, Unilever and Volkswagen. Wyzerr will soon be public to all users.
The path to Simmons’ success began in North Little Rock, where he grew up and graduated from high school. It was also there where he chose marketing as a career. The University of Arkansas was on his “wish list” of schools to attend and won out when it offered Simmons a scholarship. His Walton classes provided him with valuable knowledge, including corporate marketing, retail marketing and inventory management, which he applies to Wyzerr now. He also found a mentor in Dr. Barbara Lofton, director of Diversity and Inclusion at the college, as well as those with the university’s student affairs office, Emerging Leaders program and the Center for Multicultural and Diversity Education.
Simmons has kept his relationship going with Walton, where he now serves on the Diversity and Inclusion Corporate Advisory Board, and spoke to students enrolled in the Fleischer Scholars Program, a summer residential program, where he tells his story and encourages minorities and women to consider technology as a career.
“I try to shout the power of entrepreneurship from the mountaintop as much as I can,” Simmons says. “I’m very passionate about the economic successes of minorities.”
Simmons also remains passionate about making a positive impact, especially with diversity and inclusion in the workplace. He tells people that if they have creativity in their hearts, and the desire to help others, don’t waste any time. Go ahead and do it!
“You can really be a part of change, even if you’re from Arkansas,” Simmons says.