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Starting Up Strong

By Julie Rice Suggs, Ph.D., and Alli Keigley

March 20, 2024

What comes to mind when you think of a startup business? A pingpong table in the break room? A corner full of beanbag chairs or even a slide going from one floor to the next? These things may seem outlandish to the 9–5 corporate professional, but they all pop up when I search “startup life” on the internet. Still, others might think about buzzwords like productivity, purpose and vision, collaboration, growth mindset, dynamic, and passion in relation to startups. And I can tell you, the latter set of startup descriptors has been my experience—let me explain.

While the Packaging School is now a completely remote operation—sans the slide and the pingpong table—that fits into the small business category, we aren’t far removed from the startup days of our short but illustrious history. And we certainly have no paucity of teamwork among our small yet growing team of 15 folks who span four states. Our company tackles projects that serve to educate people in the packaging industry.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself—let me take you to the beginning. Back in 2015, the Packaging School was just getting its start as the brainchild of R. Andrew Hurley, Ph.D., and Drew Felty, MBA. Hurley, a professor at Clemson University in South Carolina who teaches all things packaging design, data-driven research, and entrepreneurship, met Felty, then a recent MBA graduate also from Clemson University. After realizing their shared vision for education, they quickly embarked upon the journey that led to the creation of an online school. Both founders believe in the power of knowledge, and while they value a four-year degree from an accredited higher education institution such as Clemson, they also realize that earning that degree is not a reality for everyone. The Packaging School was their answer to offering accessible and applicable online education to a global audience by training the leaders of tomorrow in the art and science of packaging.

In 2016, the Packaging School became an exclusive licensee of a professional packaging curriculum developed at Clemson University, and 2017 saw us become a licensed postsecondary institution through the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education. As of 2024, we have four certificate programs—Certificate of Packaging Science, Certificate of Mastery in Packaging Management, Automotive Packaging Certificate, and Certificate of Sustainable Packaging—and more than 11,000 students from all over the world on our learning management system.

One of the things we like most about working at the Packaging School is the team we’ve cultivated over the years. We are privileged to work with some of our best friends and people from all different walks of life, which makes each day exciting and inspiring. We have videographers, creatives, excellent writers, professors, instructional designers, and website gurus on our staff. At the start of the new year, we hired two interns from Clemson University to help take on the important task of updating our content. We strongly believe that in order to remain fresh and relevant to the packaging industry at large, our courses must be continually revised and improved.

Some folks still think packaging is only about shipping boxes through UPS or FedEx and wrapping gifts in decorative paper, and while, yes, that is packaging, those aspects just scratch the surface. At the Packaging School, we seek to educate our students on the global packaging industry and teach the various packaging materials (e.g., traditional plastics, sustainable bioplastics, corrugated, paper and paperboard, metal, and glass), the manufacturing processes of said materials, the interaction between packaging materials and products, the design and printing process, the distribution and supply chain system, and the resulting impact of packaging on the environment. Our programs are comprehensive, and we do a fantastic job incorporating real-world application into our curriculum from subject matter experts working in the field.

A quote by Anna Barber, managing director of Techstars Los Angeles Accelerator, defines us in a nutshell: “A learning mindset is probably the single most important quality in an early stage founder.” This mindset is constantly at the forefront of the decisions made by those of us at the Packaging School as we aim to embrace new challenges; remain resilient during the learning process; stay open to feedback; and support and learn from our team, partners, clients, and industry leaders (like the wonderful people at AICC).

So, while we may not have a pingpong table, we have all we need to continue building, growing, and learning in the years to come.

Julie Rice Suggs, Ph.D., is academic director at the Packaging School. She can be reached at 330-774-8542 or

Alli Keigley is production coordinator at the Packaging School. She can be reached at