Alumni-driven Startup Named Winner of Davidson Venture Fund Competition in Entrepreneurship


A startup publication founded by three Davidson alumni, Misadventures magazine, recently has been offered an investment of $25,000 as the winner of the 2014 Davidson College Venture Fund. Beginning this year, the fund will provide planned investments in annual awards of up to $25,000. The fund accepts applications from Davidson students and recent alumni who present business plans, and a panel of judges chooses recipients.

Misadventures magazine, which spotlights the lives of adventurous women, was this year's winner. The magazine venture is headed by three alumnae-Belk Scholar Zoe Balaconis '11, Marybeth Campeau '11 and Jessica Malordy '11. Misadventures intends to provide an alternative to the highly male-focused realm of outdoors and adventure magazines.

The trio, who learned to explore, inquire and innovate at Davidson, seek to extend the values of their liberal arts education into the mainstream. Misadventures accomplishes that goal by providing inquisitive and dynamic women-who are largely ignored by conventional media-an outlet to connect with, learn about and validate each other. The judges rewarded the team for their ability to convert this valuable aspect of Davidson's culture into a workable business plan.

Because the $25,000 is an investment rather than a cash prize, Davidson College will also own a small percentage of the magazine and will help ensure that the fledgling business succeeds.

Additionally, one finalist team was offered a position in the Davidson College Venture Lab, a summer accelerator for student startups based in Charlotte. The student team, named Crossfaded, is comprised of math majors and musicians with bold ideas for creating and distributing online music content.

Encouraging Entrepreneurship

The Venture Fund is part of Davidson's growing Entrepreneurship Initiative, which is designed to inspire, connect and support a community of entrepreneurs at Davidson. The fund is supported by a generous 2013 gift from Marian Nisbet and her two sons, Walter Olin "Chip" Nisbet IV '86 and William McGowan Nisbet, which also supports other branches of the Entrepreneurship Initiative.

The process for this year's competition began in January 2013, when teams first applied to become finalists. Accepted teams then attended a series of three clinics led by Davidson's Entrepreneur in Residence Mark Williams '86. The clinics aimed to refine the teams' business models and presentations.

Williams explained that one of the key goals of the Venture Fund is to transform people with great ideas into entrepreneurs. To do that, he helped participating teams answer important questions, including: What problem does your business try to solve? Who are your potential customers? How will your business make money? Who is on your team, and what skills do they have?

On Feb. 25, teams presented their business plans to a panel of judges, including local entrepreneur Mark McDowell, founder and managing partner of Court Square Ventures Chris Holden '85 and Davidson College President Carol Quillen.

Williams explained the value of receiving an investment as opposed to a prize or grant. "When a business receives an investment, it shares a financial risk with its investor," he said. "This relationship solidifies and promotes a commitment to success that is well beyond what the business previously had."

Balaconis expressed thanks for Davidson's investment in Misadventures. "This investment means a lot to my team," she said. "It feels great to have the validation from the judges."

Showcasing Adventurous Women

Misadventures first went online in November 2013. Balaconis conceived the idea for the magazine after becoming jaded with the male-centric articles and female objectification present in other magazines. Balaconis currently leads the surfing club at the high school where she teaches English in Somerville, Mass.

"Misadventures is important because it shows readers that the world of action sports, adventure and the outdoors is not just for men," Balaconis explained. "There are women doing these activities too, and by reading Misadventures, they can learn from and connect with each other."

Balaconis' teammate Marybeth Campeau added, "Davidson does a great job of encouraging women to be adventurous and multidimensional. When we graduated from Davidson, we learned the message distributed by the media is not as positive."

With the $25,000 investment, the Misadventures team hopes to increase Misadventures readership and revenue through advertising, branded product sales and a transition to a print-based business model. "The investment will primarily go toward increasing our visibility through a variety of methods, including advertising," Balaconis explained.

Campeau also expressed her gratitude for Davidson's recent focus on entrepreneurship. "A liberal arts education teaches students to develop and share ideas, which then creates conversations. That's what we aim to achieve with Misadventures. Those values of innovation and collaboration are very applicable to entrepreneurship."

Williams added, "Davidson is quietly and strategically investing in the ideas of our students. We are making investments and taking risks to say that we truly believe in their ideas."


Learn more about the Venture Fund.