Clara Orlean ’20 sees her family’s influence emerging strongly in her life’s professional path. Her father opened her eyes to entrepreneurism and both of her parents encouraged her to pursue a graduate degree. Now the recent graduate of Mays Business School’s Full-Time MBA Program has created ClaraTech, which assists older adults with their growing need for technology support. The idea for this start-up business was based on her mother-in-law’s experiences during the pandemic.
Orlean’s efforts thus far in building her business have proven successful. The increasing demand prompted Orlean to leave her full-time job at ExxonMobil to devote herself to ClaraTech in February 2021. Nine months later, Orlean had the winning pitch in the services category of the Lift-Off Houston Business Plan Competition, hosted by The City of Houston and Capital One Bank.
Getting Her Bearings
However, her entrepreneurial path took some unexpected turns. After studying Global Supply Chain and Operations Management as well as Business Management at the University of South Carolina, the sixth-generation Texan joined Gexpro, an electrical distribution company formerly owned by GE. She participated in the leadership program, rotating to work in a different division every 6-8 months. “In every rotation, I had a different focus, including warehousing, operations, inside sales, outside sales, and pricing,” she said. “I received a really holistic view of how a company is run from a lot of different roles and management perspectives.”
Eventually, Orlean decided to pursue an MBA, a dream sparked by her father’s experiences. “My father has always been very entrepreneurial. He started his own law practice and is a real estate investor in his free time in Fort Worth. He’s always looking for new ways to fill an unserved need,” she said. “I knew that my undergraduate degree only would get me so far in the corporate arena—or it would just take a long time to rise up the ranks and get promoted the natural way. An MBA helps you fast track.”
Orlean’s plans for graduate school were almost derailed when she didn’t score as well as she initially hoped on the GMAT. While contemplating what to do next, she found herself checking out the website of her mother’s alma mater, Texas A&M University, and noticed the admissions deadline for Mays FTMBA program. She reached out the next day and was encouraged by Assistant Director Katie Stober to retake the GMAT. After earning a much higher score, Orlean soon found herself moving to College Station.
Starting a New Chapter
The young professional decided to fully commit to the full-time 18-month program at Mays Business School in College Station, instead of combining graduate school and work. “I knew myself and that wasn’t going to work for me after trying to work and study for the GMAT,” Orlean explained. “I knew I was going to be able to make a good jump in my career because I pressed the pause button and attended the FTMBA program. That allowed me the opportunity to interact with the myriad of companies who were coming to interview Texas A&M students and attending the career fairs.”
She quickly found that the program was preparing her to take her business knowledge and skills to the next level. “I took basic business courses in my undergraduate degree, but the FTMBA program at Texas A&M took that subject matter to a deeper level,” she said. “I learned to look at things from a manager’s perspective. I was able to connect my learnings and prior work experience, connections that would be very useful in my career.”
The FTMBA program’s self and leadership assessments, as well as intimate coaching sessions, also provided a transformative mirror for improvement and building confidence. “I had never really looked at myself under a microscope,” she said. “It was very insightful and caused me to strive to be a better version of myself. The Full Time MBA Program promoted a culture of continuous improvement. You get really comfortable giving and receiving feedback.”
Orlean believes the FTMBA provided a strong foundation for her entrepreneurial venture, even though she wasn’t aware she would be launching a business at the time. “The practical knowledge I gained in the FTMBA coursework has allowed me succeed as a new business owner. I understand my financials and know how to speak to them in pitch competitions and business meetings,” she said. “My critical thinking skills, self-awareness, and ability to work with others have improved. These are skills that have been extremely helpful as a new business owner.”
The Aggieland environment
She credits the FTMBA program with creating a special comradery among her cohort, which continues to this day. “Since we were all in College Station and solely working on our MBAs, we spent a lot of time together inside and outside the classroom,” she said. “From tailgates to football games, to intramural sports, and nights out in Northgate, we really grew as friends.”
She also found time to become involved in key Mays leadership roles. “I really enjoyed giving back to the program by serving on the MBA Association Board and working in the admissions office for the FTMBA program,” Orlean said. “I loved talking to prospective students, helping them through the application process, showing them around Aggieland, and celebrating with them when they were accepted into the program.”
As an added benefit, she met her soon-to-be husband, Alex Orlean ’11 ’20, in the FTMBA program, and they grew close working together on group projects. She noted that the FTMBA’s assessments helped her better understand the complimentary nature of her own personal work style as well as that of her future husband. “We found that we worked really, really well together,” she said. “When there was conflict on the team, we worked through it together.”
Finding Her Own Path
After graduation, Orlean joined ExxonMobil, where she worked in procurement for the transportation and logistics team. But the COVID-19 pandemic soon forced the company into lockdown. Orlean began working from home, and re-evaluating the type of life she wanted to lead.
A few months later, her mother-in-law, Terri Orlean, reached out for advice on how to organize the various Zoom links for meetings as well as help on other technology issues. Soon her mother-in-law began advertising Orlean’s skill and patient counsel to her friends, who all needed help. “I saw the very rapid and uncontrollable dependence on technology that we all had to figure out quickly. I also saw that there was such a need for a service here that wasn’t being offered,” the resident of Houston, Texas said. “I started helping older adults with tech before work and during my lunch breaks.”
The need continued to grow, soon leading to Orlean’s realization that a promising business concept had found her. She created ClaraTech in October 2020—and five months later, the company had grown enough that its founder left ExxonMobil to concentrate full-time on building her new venture.
The young company takes a personalized approach to service. Orlean develops a tailored technology plan for each client, including identifying the best technology for a specific situation and then training the older adult how to use it. In some cases, this technology supports older adults who have mobility or hearing impairment. “People don’t know what opportunities are out there to make life easier,” she said. “If we can introduce some tips, tricks, or ways in which older adults can use technology to stay safe, connected, and independent, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Over the past year, she’s refined her business model based on what she’s learning from multiple datapoints. While she continues to work primarily with individual older adults, Orlean also has received invitations to train care providers and employees of small businesses.
She also is initiating technology workshops in Houston-area retirement communities, which she sees as a huge gap in services. “Tech education is not provided at retirement communities, and I really believe it should be,” she said. “They want to learn, but nobody’s taking the time to show them how to use their iPhone or how to FaceTime. My goal is to change that so retirement communities regularly have tech education on their activity calendars.”
Increasing Tech Literacy
Realizing the growing opportunities for ClaraTech, Orlean decided to participate in the Lift-Off Houston Business Plan Competition. Impressed by ClaraTech’s business plan, the organizers invited the Aggie to pitch in a Shark Tank-like competition in front of influential decision-makers. “It was my first pitch competition, and I hadn’t done anything like that before,” she said.
Her pitch in the services category earned her first place and $10,000 to cover costs associated with growing her business—and she credits the FTMBA program for preparing her for the intense competition. “The MBA program gave me the confidence to stand up in front of the room and pitch my business. It was nerve-wracking,” she said. “My big transformation in the MBA program was my confidence and belief in myself. Texas A&M’s MBA program allowed me so much time to progress and to get over my fear of public speaking. It turns out that I’m pretty good at public speaking once I got over the fear.”
She’s also really good at identifying the needs of older adults and is committed to figuring out how to help them incorporate technology more seamlessly in their lives. “I want to impact more people and help more older adults stay safe, connected, and independent through technology,” Orlean said. “I want to change tech from being this frustrating thing that is a barrier making their life more difficult into a tool that can enhance their lives. Tech can and will change the lives of older adults if we provide this service, education, and training in a way that is tailored to them.”
Orlean is grateful for how her family and her “chosen family” from Mays FTMBA Program have influenced her life, both in personal and professional life. Now she wants to remain connected to Mays to reciprocate—and to keep learning. “I have a deep desire to stay involved and give back. I have really enjoyed staying involved with the admissions team to serve as a panelist and just helped with a marketing campaign for the MBA programs,” she said, adding that she remains close to her classmates. “We had our annual reunion for the FTMBA program called Brisket Bowl back in October of last year and had about 20 of our classmates come from all over the country to be together. It was like we didn’t skip a beat.”