IN FOCUS: Small Business – Tapestry of the times

Posted on Mar 1, 2014 :: Small Business Spotlight
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer
Dawn Nowakowski’s WeMontage collage displays her daughter’s passion for Hula hooping.  Courtesy of We Montage.

Dawn Nowakowski’s WeMontage collage displays her daughter’s passion for Hula hooping. Courtesy of We Montage.

When Dawn Nowakowski’s daughter, Hannah, left for college last fall, Nowakowski found herself facing more than just an empty nest. She was staring at empty walls, too.

“She took all of her posters to college, so the walls were bare,” Nowakowski explains. While she wasn’t looking to renovate the room into a home office or make drastic decorating changes, she did want to cover those bare walls.

Through her job with the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce, Nowakowski learned about a new company in Neenah that produces personalized, removable wallpaper from photos customers upload to its website.

“Being in member services at the Chamber, my job is to understand the landscape of local business both small and large,” Nowakowski says. “I am always interested in new businesses and like to learn about entrepreneurial ventures and new ideas on the market.”

This particular new idea turned out to be the perfect solution to Nowakowski’s design dilemma.

“I loved the idea and asked to meet him (James Oliver, WeMontage CEO) for coffee,” she says.

James Oliver, a Neenah resident, is also a fan of new ideas. Watching an interior design television program sparked his idea for the creation of WeMontage.

“This family had covered a whole wall with black and white pictures,” Oliver says. “I stayed up all night trying to figure out how to do it. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Who doesn’t love pictures … of themselves, their friends, their loved ones? To see it in that large, unique way; I’ve never seen anything like it. It was stunning.”

As stunning as the end result appeared, Oliver soon discovered that turning personal photos into wallpaper was not quite as simple as they’d made it look on HDTV. For Oliver, however, that simply made the challenge more appealing.

“One of the things I’m really good at is never quitting,” he says. “When it gets super hard, I go to the wall.”

Oliver initially worked with an agency in New York to develop the computer software needed for the photo part of the process, then went to Madison to participate in the “gener8tor” start-up accelerator program. Oliver hired technical co-founder Chris Schmitz from De Pere to revamp and fine tune the company website into what it is today.


It’s all in how you don’t frame it

Oliver says the goal of WeMontage is to allow people to “live beyond the frame” in a physical and emotional sense.

“First, you have an environment that, for whatever reason, picture frames just don’t work. The kids’ room, for example: If they’re in there playing Nerf basketball, you don’t want frames in there,” he explains.

The emotional component, however, is what Oliver says can have the greatest impact on clients and is also the biggest reward for him. He describes the experience of one client who used WeMontage as a way to strengthen family connections for loved ones living far away. He used negatives from photographs taken in the ’50s to make a 6-by-4-foot montage as a Christmas gift for his parents, who were in an assisted living facility in Oregon. “They were just blown away. The mom has early signs of memory loss and they were kind of going down memory lane. What a tremendous gift to give to them. That’s what WeMontage is all about,” he says.


Picture this

Customers upload photos to and create their own, unique collage of personal images. The site optimizes layouts based on the size of the collage, the number of photos, and the resolution quality of those photos. Clients can also swap image positions once they find a layout they like. The photo wallpaper is removable without damage to the wall finish. Prices range from $69.99 for a 3-by-2-foot print to $119.99 for a 6-by-2-foot print.

Testimonials from clients include businesses, such as The Art Commission, which showcases its clients artwork in its Madison office. But WeMontage has been especially popular with families, including the Nowakowskis.

“I thought it would be fun to take the photos of Hannah and her two best friends from their trip to Ultra Fest in Miami.” Nowakowski said. “I took some of Hannah’s high school graduation photos and some of her Hula hooping pics to make another collage.”

While her daughter’s room has a whole new look, the best part, according to Nowakowski, is that it’s still Hannah’s room.

“It’s still hers, because it’s all about her. It’s so her personality,” she said.