When the world stopped in response to the COVID pandemic, these seven Rollins alumni did just the opposite. They didn’t just save their businesses—they made them better.
From top left: Jessica Branning ’14, Amber Mundinger ’06, Ryan DeVos ’13, Doug Satzman ’96, Evan Garvey ’06, Tricia Smith Edris ’01, and Carmen Juncal Delgado ’19MAT.
Remember February 2020? Back when you stood shoulder-to-grumpy-shoulder on airport trams and thought nothing of shaking hands in convention halls with 50 people you barely knew?
“Back then,” says Evan Garvey ’06, reminiscing, “I thought 2020 would be a banner year.” As executive vice president of AGS Exposition Services, Garvey had been calculating how many people he’d have to hire for the events and trade shows he’d booked. That’s when “the ground shifted underneath us.”
Imagine being in the shoes of Doug Satzman ’96, knowing all 50 of your spas are in the very airports that are suddenly on a short list of the last places anyone wants to be. Or Ryan DeVos ’13, seeing one of the first dominos to fall is the National Basketball Association … and you work for the Orlando Magic.
Amber Mundinger ’06 of Artists Den Entertainment watched from her apartment as the energy (and music scene) in New York City vanished. Face-to-face tutoring came to a halt for Carmen Juncal Delgado ’19. Instead of tapping the brakes, Tricia Smith Edris ’01 of AdventHealth and ClinCloud founder Jessica Branning ’14 had to make 90-degree turns while accelerating their work.
In other words, each of these Rollins alumni had to figure it out, and that’s just what they did.
Pre-pandemic focus: ClinCloud trials for memory loss
Mid-pandemic pivot: COVID tests and trials
Jessica Branning ’14’s company, ClinCloud, was only 15 months old when COVID-19 crashed upon us. It was not, however, a fragile toddler in the clinical research industry.
“We’ve been overcoming obstacles every day from the time we launched in October 2018,” says Branning, who majored in biology.
She credits her ability to move quickly in the complex field of clinical testing to her liberal arts experience at Rollins. Her business sense? “It came from my psychology classes. The instructors showed me how to merge analytical and logical thinking.” Her health-care expertise? “I was on track for medical school but took a class in clinical trials my last semester and realized ‘this is how I can make a positive mark in the world.’”
Branning differentiated her company with a tech-forward mindset. When COVID hit, ClinCloud didn’t need Zoom or Microsoft Teams. “We’d developed our own app,” she says. “We’d already been doing virtual screenings with trial patients.”
Her team, which started with three people in 2018 and this year has grown to 28, was so far ahead that they helped clinics around the country transition to virtual models.
“If our competitors find cures, everyone wins,” she says.
ClinCloud also started trials for the novel coronavirus after Branning negotiated with pharmaceutical companies and secured a second office. The company was then chosen to run trials on Regeneron, whose antibody cocktail has drawn global attention.
“I’ve seen medications that help Alzheimer’s patients, but they get stuck in the approval process. The response to COVID has proven that clinical trials don’t have to take years and years. This isn’t scary. This is about improving the quality of lives.”
Pre-pandemic focus: Live from the Artists Den
Mid-pandemic pivot: Launch Live from My Den
Amber Mundinger ’06’s career has been an artistic doodle. She’s worked in sports marketing, fashion, magazine publishing, and once helped the city of Orlando rebrand itself. In January 2019, she was asked to join Artists Den Entertainment in New York as its chief operating officer.
“Business development seemed like another big turn,” she says, “but I liked the idea helping grow a larger global audience.”
The critically acclaimed TV series Live from the Artists Den on PBS showcases musical artists performing in unique venues (John Legend in a church where Martin Luther King Jr. once spoke, for example) with intimate crowds of a few hundred.
When COVID hit, the concept of “intimate crowds” went kaput. Mundinger, who majored in organizational communication, called a remote brainstorming session in which the staff found out the following: “The film crew can’t be together. We can’t use cool venues. And musical artists can’t go anywhere.”
If you only hear the word “can’t,” then you’ve never brainstormed with Mundinger. Her life rolls on four words: Be positive. Be creative.
“I had a class at Rollins called Listening with communication professor Rick Bommelje. It showed me how to stop whatever you’re thinking so you can fully understand others. I still keep that with me.”
Out of the brainstorming session came the idea to have artists film themselves in their homes with an Artists Den crew remotely directing them. Mundinger did a test run with her husband in their apartment, the video crew talking them through adjustments via Zoom. A month later, an offshoot called Live from My Den premiered, becoming a weekly online series thanks to a partnership with Variety magazine. Between them, they’re also able to support Delivering Good, which provides material items for people in need.
“I’m using everything I learned from school in my career,” says Mundinger, “creatively and positively.”
Pre-pandemic focus: XpresSpa massages and manicures in airports
Mid-pandemic pivot: XpresCheck COVID testing in airports
“The challenge.” It’s the reason Doug Satzman ’96 joined XpresSpa as CEO in February 2019. And, oh, did he ever get what he wanted. Satzman had enjoyed a 15-year run helping Starbucks expand its brand presence in Europe.
During his travels he’d see passengers going into XpresSpa during layovers. The spas were in 25 airports globally with annual revenues in the eight figures. The problem: 18 straight months of declining sales.
“They wanted someone to come in with fresh eyes and a strong track record,” says Satzman, who double-majored in economics and psychology at Rollins.
After Satzman arrived, revenues increased each month through December 2019. Forecasts for 2020 showed profitability on the horizon. And then COVID turned airports into travel deserts. By early spring, XpresSpa’s revenue had caved to zero and all but five of its 450 employees had been furloughed.
“We couldn’t just batten down the hatches and hope to survive,” he says.
Satzman drew upon a foundational principle instilled at Rollins: A few people working collaboratively can accomplish a lot by thinking outside the box.
“Our country’s economy is dependent on air travel,” says Satzman. “We need pilots, TSA agents, and staff to keep working safely. So we decided to convert our spas into COVID testing centers for front-line workers—and eventually, passengers.”
The group that runs JFK Airport in New York liked the idea so much they offered space for XpresSpa to build a modular testing center. The raw idea for XpresCheck became reality in less than 75 days. As of November, the company was back up to more than 50 employees and expanding its test-center business nationally.
“It’s a miracle,” says Satzman. It also is not temporary. “The airport medical clinics will remain even when COVID is gone. We’ll be at the forefront of an emerging travel health-and-wellness segment because we weathered the worst to get here first.”
Pre-pandemic focus: Esports operations
Mid-pandemic pivot: Launch a season, grow audience
On the night of March 11, around the same time news broke that Tom Hanks tested positive for COVID-19, the sports world watched as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban looked at his phone and reacted to news that the NBA was shutting down its season.
Everyone started turning to their devices like never before, which is what we do when we have nowhere else to go. Ryan DeVos ’13—who helped launch Magic Gaming as a new business arm for the Orlando Magic in 2017—turned to his team and said, “We need to get busy.”
“We stepped into a space where, frankly, there wasn’t a ton of belief. Traditional basketball fans didn’t understand why anyone would watch professional gamers. Young people understood, but anyone older than 25 scoffed at it.”
Doubters are nothing new to DeVos, who majored in international business at Rollins. His grandfather, Richard, bought the Magic franchise in 1991, and the team has been in the family ever since.
“I learned about business at our dinner table growing up,” he says. “The most important lessons had to do with looking ahead. Those same principles were stressed in my internships and small-group projects at Rollins.”
In the days after March 11, DeVos helped relocate his esports players from a fully outfitted studio to apartments with maximum bandwidth. In the months that followed, people stuck at home during the pandemic tuned into the NBA 2K League on ESPN2, the ESPN app, and ESPN.com, many for the first time.
“Our viewership doubled,” says DeVos, who expects the numbers to remain high next season too. “We kept our focus on one common goal, and now there’s no turning back.”
Pre-pandemic focus: Patient support and engagement
Mid-pandemic pivot: Implement remote delivery of care
Imagine what health care could be someday. Tricia Smith Edris ’01 had been hearing that, and imagining, almost from the time she started as a receptionist in high school with Florida Hospital (now AdventHealth). She also instilled the message in her roles as an executive. But even as senior vice president and chief strategy officer, she knows that in health care there’s often a large gap between imagining and doing.
“We’ve had plans in our pipeline for quite a while,” says Smith Edris, who studied English at Rollins. “COVID became our disruptor. It kicked those plans into high gear.”
Among them: offer virtual care through mobile devices so patients wouldn’t have to leave home; eliminate touch points like clipboards, pens, and paper during registration; and reduce the need for waiting rooms.
“We were able to do these things in weeks rather than months or years,” she says.
You can understand the challenge when you consider AdventHealth is a system of nearly 50 hospitals with more than 80,000 employees across the country. How do you move a mountain? Smith Edris says telling people what to do is not the answer.
“It’s about how you influence people,” she says. “I learned about the power of influence in English classes at Rollins. Know the story you want to tell, gather your information, synthesize it, and communicate it well. That’s stayed with me in every position I’ve ever had.”
Influence is pushing more ideas through the pipeline. What if, for example, health-care professionals could partner with patients while they shop for food?
“We’ve been imagining these things for years,” says Smith Edris, “and now they’re starting to come to life.”
Pre-pandemic focus: Tutoring in Orlando area
Mid-pandemic pivot: Tutoring locally and abroad
Carmen Juncal Delgado ’19MAT left Venezuela four years ago with admirable plans. She would go to the U.S. with her husband and two children to improve their lives, improve her English, and improve her teaching skills. Then, someday, she would return to her native country to tutor people and, in so doing, reduce poverty.
“It turned out to be very challenging,” she says.
Within a week of entering the Hamilton Holt School’s master’s in teaching (MAT) program, Delgado found herself in need of a tutor.
“It’s a lot of writing, which is hard to learn in a second language,” she says. But she also sensed something unique in each class: “The professors are passionate about individual instruction. They knew my difficulties and my goals, so they showed me how to apply the material in ways that would help me teach others with similar language challenges.”
Delgado applied the material and the passion during internships in elementary schools. After earning her master’s, she landed a tutoring job for Orange County’s Read to Succeed program, where she could relate to the children’s struggles. After one month, COVID brought the program to a halt as schools transitioned to remote learning. Parents like Delgado, who has two children, had a whole new set of burdens.
Delgado started receiving calls from parents asking for help with the technology and with the language gap in the lessons. She gave guidance on the phone and via Zoom and posted tips on Instagram under the name CJ Learning Keys. And then Delgado adapted her know-how to her ultimate goal. Using WhatsApp, she began tutoring children back in Venezuela. It’s just the beginning.
“This is a way to help Venezuelans all over the world,” she says. “I can improve lives in a very different way than what I originally planned.”
Pre-pandemic focus: Trade shows and events
Mid-pandemic pivot: Virtual trade shows and back-to-business kits
Workers in Dallas had just finished the two-week process of laying carpet, hanging signage, and in the words of Evan Garvey ’06, “turning an ordinary space into an extraordinary experience” for a trade show back in March. The show was one of hundreds Garvey had consulted and negotiated as executive vice president of Orlando-based AGS Expo.
“Our business was moving quickly,” says Garvey.
Then, in Dallas, everything stopped. Because of the COVID threat, Garvey had to tell his staff to convert the extraordinary space back to concrete floors and bare walls. One by one, every event on his calendar followed suit: canceled, canceled, canceled.
“It was shocking,” says Garvey, who majored in economics. “We wondered if events would return in two months or a year. But the real question was, ‘What’s our pivot right now?’”
Garvey drew on his broad and diverse set of Rollins experiences to respond proactively.
“One of the most important things I did at Rollins was to avail myself outside the classroom to student government, my fraternity, the choir, and the rowing team. I learned to be versatile.”
In the spirit of versatility, the AGS team used its technical acumen to quickly develop virtual events. The high-end graphics machinery that makes signs for shows? They used it instead to create safety signage and shields to outfit doctors’ offices, banks, and retailers with back-to-business kits. Garvey also began educating clients about the health and safety of in-person shows.
“Our biggest takeaway from this goes beyond what we can physically see from our pivot,” says Garvey. “It’s knowing that we can continually push ourselves into different directions. We don’t need a crisis to do that.”
Photo by Scott Cook
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