Fresh off a plane from his home in Qatar during his first semester at UMass Amherst, Juliano Wahab ’23 had just arrived at his software entrepreneurship class when his professor told him to present a startup idea. Caught by surprise, Wahab, a computer science and marketing major, had no choice but to rise to the challenge.
“I wanted to do something art related, so I said I wanted to democratize the art world,” he said. “I knew I wanted to help artists make their art more accessible, but I had no product, no features, nothing concrete.”
That idea has since morphed into Monet—a growing online platform that makes it easy for emerging and well-known artists across the world to connect with art collectors and sell their work. In May, Wahab and his team, including fellow student Alex Rohrberg ’23, competed in the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship’s 2023 Innovation Challenge and won $41,000 in equity-free funding to continue their work. Monet hosted more than 350 artists on six continents as of early May.
“Our panel of judges was extremely impressed by Monet and the power it has to revolutionize the art business,” said Gregory Thomas, executive director at the Berthiaume Center and a lecturer at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst. “I’m excited to see how this platform evolves with the new funding.”
Wahab grew up across the world in Lebanon, Dubai, and Qatar. A multimedia artist himself, he loves to create animations, clothes, paintings, and graffiti.
The budding entrepreneur and artist first learned about UMass Amherst when he came across a physics problem written by a UMass student while studying at a French school in Qatar. Although he did not get into the Isenberg or the Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences when he first applied, he was eventually accepted to both.
“I want to be able to create things that influence how people think and behave,” Wahab said. “But I also chose computer science because I like being able to do anything—if I have an idea, I can do it. And now I know how to market it, which is fun.”
Monet combines Wahab’s love for art, marketing, and computer science. And while the platform is designed to help artists navigate the business side of the art world, it also serves as a platform where artists can reach new collectors who exist outside of established art marketplaces.
Wahab has taken a grassroots approach to marketing Monet. Instead of taking out print or online advertisements, he’s reached out to local and international artists and offered to create content for them to promote their upcoming exhibitions. From there, Monet has spread via word of mouth.
“At Monet, we hate ads with a passion,” he said. “I feel like when you watch an ad you often automatically get a sense they’re trying to take advantage of your wallet. We don’t want to do that; we want to be the people you identify with.”
Many Isenberg professors have thrown their support behind Monet, according to Wahab. He highlighted Heidi Bailey, his product strategy professor, and Verónica Martín Ruiz, an assistant professor of marketing and his consumer behavior professor, as two of his main supporters.
The road to success, however, has not been easy. Wahab and his team brought Monet to multiple pitch competitions before the recent Innovation Challenge, losing each one.
“Every time we talk to someone and fail, it feels like the end of the road,” Wahab said. “People say, ‘Juliano, you have so many other great ideas, go do those.’ You have to be so stubborn and slightly stupid to ignore everyone, even if they have more experience than you.”
Wahab has found immense value in pushing through and participating in every pitch competition he can. Through these experiences, he’s connected with MBAs and other business-savvy people who have since joined the Monet team.
The team has big plans for the $41,000 award from the Berthiaume Center. It will go toward legal advice, technical improvements, and marketing. And while Wahab is not sure what he’s going to do after graduating this fall, he knows he wants to continue working on Monet.
“What I’ve learned from being an entrepreneur is if you’re not in doubt constantly about what you’re doing, then you’re not pushing the boundaries far enough,” he said. “I can’t really say what I will be doing six months from now, because I’m already doubting what I’m doing tomorrow.”
The Berthiaume Center’s 2023 Innovation Challenge presented awards to: