Art meets tech. Birmingham startup Conserv helps protect art collections for everyone.

Conserv founders Austin Senseman (r) and Nathan McMinn (l) at the recent launch of their Conservation Studio.
Conserv co-founders Nathan McMinn (CTO) and Austin Senseman (CEO) having fun in tuxes at the Birmingham Museum of Art for the recent launch of their conservation studio. Photo supplied

Where most of us go to an art museum or fancy library full of old books and revel in the treasures we find, Conserv’s co-founders saw a unique problem to solve.

Now, founders Austin Senseman and Nathan McMinn have built a company around the notion that “conservators need better stuff.” But why? Read on for all the details, plus some pretty awesome local recommendations of places to eat, drink and have fun.

What is Conserv?

According to their mission statement,


Conserv exists to bring better preventative care to more of the world’s 450,000+ art and cultural collections.”

They do this by providing better hardware and services to conservation professionals so they can take better care of their collections.

So say you’re in charge of maintaining the Wedgewood Collection at the Birmingham Museum of Art, like Nathan McMinn’s Mom is, or the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, or the original copy of the US Constitution.

You need to keep these things at a certain temperature, vibration level and humidity level, among other things. Conserv helps you do that.


What’s the Conservation Studio?

Conservation Studio is a free platform Conserv has developed for art and cultural collections conservators.
Not a current screenshot. Photo from Conserv via Facebook

Conserv’s recently-launched Conservation Studio is a free platform that allows them to help conservators do their work.

According to Senseman, “there are many jobs a conservation professional does. The first is environmental monitoring.”

While Conserv is hard at work getting their own sensor hardware ready, the Conservation Studio platform allows conservation professionals to use data from whatever sensor devices they already have.


Here's a look at the Conservation Studio platform.
A screenshot from the Conservation Studio. Photo supplied

Why would people want to upload data to the Conservation Studio platform?

One of Conserv's sensors.
Conserv’s basic enclosure and board are off to the FCC for approval. Photo from Conserv via Facebook

Senseman: Overwhelmingly, the sensors and the software that goes with them come from companies that are not focused on conservation, so the software doesn’t do much for them. If you’re not highly trained, it’s hard to do anything with the data.

When people bring data to our platform, we analyze it with a tool built specifically for people in charge of art and cultural collections.

The platform is and always will be free. From that relationship, we can start a conversation to see if they’re interested in using our other tools (which are currently in development).


What’s Conserv’s relationship to Birmingham’s tech ecosystem?

The Conserv guys hard at work in Birmingham.

Senseman: We’re right in middle of it. In October 2018, we made a list of things that were important to us. We wanted to build a company that could be built in Birmingham.

So we asked “do we have the right kind of advice, capital, skill sets to do what we want to do?” We decided we did.

Advice

On the advice side, we have access to a lot of great people. Dave Gray has been fantastic. We were two people with an idea, and he was willing to sit and give us an hour of his time.


Sometimes with success comes inaccessibility, but the successful founders here are not like that at all. We can ask for a sanity check, or advice, and they’re more than willing to talk.

Tony Summerville from Fleetio has also been very helpful.

Capital

Senseman: There are angel investors here, and groups that fund after the initial angel rounds. The Alabama Futures Fund and Alabama Capital Network are keeping closer tabs on early stage companies. Now we have the capital sitting there for the next phase. This is really important.


Skills

Senseman: On the skills side, we’re increasingly bringing more and more talented people to the city. Birmingham’s Office of Economic Development is incentivizing talent.

When SHIPT brings in 1000 people, it doesn’t just help SHIPT. These people all live here and contribute. We are certainly benefiting from this.

McMinn: “Big exits” in Birmingham mean we bring people to the city, and help keep a lot of smart people here. A lot of grads from UAB and Samford graduate and start looking for greener pastures. But it’s looking pretty green here in Birmingham.


Speaking of Birmingham, let’s talk about some of your local favorites

Austin Senseman, Conserv CEO

Austin Senseman, Conserv's CEO
Austin Senseman sporting his Legion F.C. gear. Photo supplied
  • Local restaurant: Red Pearl
  • Dish at the Red Pearl: eggplant with garlic sauce
  • Brewery: Good People
  • Sports team: Legion F.C.

Nathan McMinn, Conserv CTO

Nathan McMinn is Conserv's CTO.
Nathan McMinn and his wife Brooke. Photo supplied
  • Cocktail spots: Atomic, Cayo Coco
  • Liquor store: LeNell’s
  • Local food spot: T-Bones in 5 Points – “the only legit Philly cheesesteak in the city of Birmingham”
  • Places to go: The Birmingham Botanical Gardens and the Birmingham Museum of Art

You can follow Conserv’s journey on their website, on Facebook, or on LinkedIn.

Author: Sharron Mendel Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference