Another budding company got a major infusion of support Friday, thanks to Davidson's Venture Fund. The fund supports the college's Entrepreneurship Initiative by awarding young alumni with investment capital of up to $25,000 in support of their entrepreneurial ventures.
Darrell Scott '10 and Tareq Alani '10 received the full $25,000 available for their venture, ColorWorthy, a daily email digest for black millennials that curates and distributes relevant, compelling, national news content as well as some local news and events.
"Print publications have declined, and new media has filled voids for various demographics, but no one has done that-at scale-for black millennials," Alani said. "There's this gaping void."
Winning the Venture Fund not only gives the team needed seed money, it also gives them reassurance, knowing that other seasoned entrepreneurs have vetted their idea and believe it has promise.
"It feels really good to get this kind of validation," Alani said. "We've put a lot of energy and time into the project so far, and seeing that pay off and knowing that we're on the right track is awesome."
The Venture Fund is made possible through a 2013 gift from the Nisbet family. Each year the college calls for idea submissions from current students and young alumni (up to five years out), and selects finalists who get matched with Davidson alumni mentors, meet with Davidson's entrepreneur in residence, and prepare for the final presentation day in which they pitch their ideas to a panel of judges and compete for the ultimate award. This year there were six finalist teams.
To qualify for the money, the start-ups have to have for-profit business models, and have to be incorporated. They may choose to receive the money as either a convertible note or a warrant.
Alani and Scott will use the money to build out their technology and database infrastructure for the company, Scott said.
As owners, each brings to the table years of relevant experience and applicable skills. Alani has worked at the intersection of social justice and data analysis for the last five years, creating technical solutions for two large nonprofits and also curating content for 18 Million Rising, an Asian American Pacific Islander civic engagement group. Scott worked for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem for two years on social justice grants and its nonprofit internship program, as well as its racial equity capacity building team, and then in 2012 he took a position with Accelerate Change in Washington, D.C., an organization working to advance social change through development of sustainable funding models. He works primarily with organizations whose members are domestic workers, immigrants, restaurant workers and progressive activists.
"It feels great to get this vote of confidence from the college and a community of entrepreneurs," Scott said. "We're looking forward to pushing more on the idea as well as staying in contact with the judges."
The judges for the event were: College President Carol Quillen, as well as three accomplished entrepreneurs, Executive Chairman of Acta Consulting Mark McDowell, Partner at Grotech Ventures Don Rainey, and Co-founder/Chief Technology Officer of Versame Chris Boggiano.
In judging pitches, Boggiano considers both the products/ideas and the teams, but places more weight on the latter, he said. "I'm looking for problem solvers, critical thinkers. Will they take no for an answer, or will they keep trying?"
Scott attributes much of his confidence, perseverance and don't-take-no attitude to his experience at Davidson. A Belk Scholar, Scott was a sociology major with a concentration in ethnic studies, and took great interest not just in identifying the causes of problems, but in understanding them and working to affect change through communication and civic engagement.
"Davidson gave me the space and the resources to explore those interests," Scott said.
For his commitment to public service, Scott also received the Harry S. Truman Scholarship in 2009.
"My studies and experience at Davidson impact the way I approach my work with diverse groups, and give me a framework for understanding their challenges," he said.
The idea for ColorWorthy was first incubated at Accelerate Change in 2013. Initially, they sought to aggregate information from African-American interest groups within Facebook, Scott explained, and examine the sort of content the users shared, promoted, and sought. They found:
"Ultimately, we want to re-create a news atmosphere like the one during the civil rights movement," Scott said, "when there were several dozen black publications with circulations to hundreds of thousands of readers."
"We're using the same strategy that these black publications took, but with 21st century tools and tactics," Alani said.
ColorWorthy stood out to Boggiano because of its aim to fill an obvious hole in the marketplace, he said, and also because of the team behind it.
"Darrell and Tareq in particular were both highly motivated and had a firm understanding of the space they're venturing into. They had the best combination of idea and team to execute on that idea of all of the teams I saw pitch."
And though there was only one winner, the exercises in innovation, idea development, research, workshopping and pitch presentation are invaluable for all of the participants, Boggiano said.
"Exposure to the idea of entrepreneurship is really the big win from all of this," he said. "We need people in the world who are willing to challenge the status quo."