Psychology professor, Nawgan co-founder talks startups, research at UMSL

by | Apr 15, 2015

UMSL Director of MIMH and psychology Professor Rob Paul knows about startups and research after his ventures in producing a brain alertness drink called Nawgan.
UMSL's Director of MIMH and Psychology Professor Rob Paul knows about startups and research after his ventures in producing a brain alertness drink called Nawgan. He will be one of the keynotes at UMSL's Research & Innovation Week April 17-24. (Photo by August Jennewein)

UMSL Director of MIMH and psychology Professor Rob Paul knows about startups and research after his ventures in producing a brain alertness drink called Nawgan. He will be one of the keynotes at UMSL’s Research & Innovation Week April 17-24. (Photo by August Jennewein)

In 2007, psychology Professor Rob Paul co-founded Nawgan, a company that produces a brain alertness drink made out of natural ingredients. He is also the director of the Missouri Institute of Mental Health and a researcher at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

So it’s no surprise that Paul is one of the keynote speakers at UMSL’s Research & Innovation Week, which runs April 17-24. He’ll be talking about his successful faculty startup at noon on April 21 in the SGA Chamber of the Millennium Student Center. Other topics of the week include what industry recruiters look for in new hires, all the how-tos of grants and two sessions on mental health first aid. The other keynote is about patents on Monday.

As a sneak preview, UMSL Daily caught up with Paul on his passion for startups, Nawgan’s development and his first year as director of MIMH. For more advice, be sure to attend his keynote.

Why are startups important to the St. Louis region, and what are some lessons and challenges to be learned from your startup experience?
Startups are extremely important to St Louis. Small businesses make up the foundation of the workforce across the nation. Further, all big businesses start out as a small business at one point. It’s important for the city to be a part of the process and support the development of small businesses growing into big businesses.

All startups face a lot of challenges. In Nawgan’s case, it’s a company not run by its founders on a daily basis, so the management team has to really be in sync with the original founders. I’m tied to my work at UMSL and the other co-founder has a full-time career, but we must be sure the company is maintaining the vision, direction and original reason for its creation and product. The other challenge is always being sensitive and connected to the consumer base and how consumers are reacting to our products at retail when confronted with competitive products.

How has Nawgan fared in the market? Anything new in the works?
Nawgan is performing well. It’s found its place in key channels for retail. Those are the health and wellness channel and the at-work channel. As an alertness beverage, it really helps people perform their best and get through their day, which is why it is sought most specifically in these channels. As a business, Nawgan is growing. We just launched our second product in the Nawgan family. It’s called Powered ON and is a natural energy drink directed more at the mass retail market and focused on natural products.

Well into your first year as director of MIMH, how have you settled into the role?
I love the new position. I work with a phenomenal group of colleagues. And MIMH has such a rich history. Really fantastic, innovative work is happening here. It’s also a great opportunity for UMSL. MIMH is relatively new to the university and we’re aiming to grow and showcase the outstanding research supported by the university. We’re hiring new faculty and researchers to help lead research in the mental health field within the St. Louis, state and national regions. Importantly, our group is active in building innovative programs to directly help the community.

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Marisol Ramirez

Marisol Ramirez

Eye on UMSL: The flavor of homecoming
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Senior business major Jalen Walker-Wright gets a cup of southwest chili from Vanessa Loyd and Erin Schaeffer during last Thursday’s homecoming Chili Feed.

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Senior business major Jalen Walker-Wright gets a cup of southwest chili from Vanessa Loyd and Erin Schaeffer during last Thursday’s homecoming Chili Feed.

Eye on UMSL: The flavor of homecoming

Senior business major Jalen Walker-Wright gets a cup of southwest chili from Vanessa Loyd and Erin Schaeffer during last Thursday’s homecoming Chili Feed.