Venture Fund Winners: There’s a Drone and an App for That

Judges at Davidson's fifth annual Venture Fund Pitch Day tapped two emerging entrepreneurial ventures to split $25,000 in start-up funding and chances at global opportunities.

One winner, Lucid, LLC, combines flying drone technology with a pressure-washing rig. Co-founders David Danielson '19, Andrew Ashur '19 and Adrian Mayans '19 are poised to clean up in a burgeoning window- and building-washing market that is still largely dependent on scheduling and moving expensive, bulky equipment.

The patent-pending technology is faster, more efficient and more cost-effective than current methods, the entrepreneurs said.

The other winning entry is a tech finance group called NALA, which is developing an app to transfer money faster and more affordably in East Africa, where few people have a bank account but most have a smart phone. Co-founders Sam Castle '14 and his Tanzanian partner Benjamin Fernandes say features like offline functionality will save on customers' data charges, and their platform also will provide access to financial planning and money management tools.

Natural Fit

Lucid's Ashur said that the liberal arts and entrepreneurial thinking are a natural fit for finding ingenious solutions.

"Between the three of us at Lucid, we have four majors: econ, math, philosophy and Spanish. We saw this huge market inefficiency [in window and building washing], and we're finding a way to put things together to capitalize on that," he said. "We've all become experts at what we're doing in spite of not being engineers."

Ashur made a distinction between "heuristic" thinking common to a liberal arts education and algorithmic thinking–heuristic (from Greek "to find, discover") thinking is hands-on, interactive, thinking on your feet, on-the-job training, and algorithmic thinking is more mathematically prescribed.

"That's a huge advantage of a liberal arts education: it's not algorithmic," he said. "Most algorithmic jobs are now being automated, because they can be."

With the encouragement of investors and mentors, Ashur plans to graduate early to devote his time and energy to Lucid. His Wildcats baseball teammates offer full-throated support of his early "draft" into the business big leagues.

"I'm a 5'9" pitcher, so I'm not looking to be an MLB pitcher," Ashur said. "I came to Davidson for the education."

Each Venture Fund finalist team worked with a team of four dedicated mentors in the month leading up to Pitch Day. Volunteer mentors include entrepreneurs, investors and others from the Davidson alumni network, and local entrepreneurs affiliated with LaunchLKN and the Charlotte startup community.

The judges for this year's pitch day were Jay Hurt '88, the namesake of the Jay Hurt Hub for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Davidson College, a collaborative, innovation space inside a renovated cotton mill; Phiderika Foust '94, founder and managing director of Silverpea Ventures; and Don Rainey, general partner of Grotech Ventures. The keynote speaker was Leigh Rawdon '95, CEO and co-founder of Tea Collection infant and children's clothing.

The other three Venture Fund Pitch Day finalists were Blueming (an app targeting postpartum self-care for new parents); Scriba, a customizable day planner; and The American Moderate, a production and streaming platform for video debates on niche political and social issues.

Growing Success

At Wednesday's event, President Carol Quillen traced the origins of the Davidson Venture Fund–Marian and Chip '86 Nisbet's start-up gift in memory of Walter Olin Nisbet III '63, a Charlotte businessman and entrepreneur.

"The Venture Fund is just one expression of Davidson's extraordinary commitment to providing opportunities for students to engage in real-time innovation and entrepreneurship," said Julie Goff, who heads up The Hurt Hub@Davidson. "As The Hurt Hub comes fully online this summer, we are excited about continuing to strengthen connections between our students and faculty and the region's vibrant economy–including a strong entrepreneurial community and diverse industries."

So far, the record is one of success, based on the Venture Fund's own judging criteria: opportunity, solution, business model, traction, team and impact.

Last year's winner, Bloomerent, a peer-to-peer flower resale platform, is definitely having an impact for consumers and the environment in the $31 billion flower industry. Bloomerent recently was featured in the New York Times and has closed a successful round of expansion funding, said co-founder Julia Capalino '11.

The first Venture Fund winner, a magazine co-founded by alumnae Zoe Balaconis '11, Marybeth Campeau '11 and Jessica Malordy '11, continues to spotlight the lives of adventurous women at Misadventures.

Coverage & Connections

WRAL Techwire cites "an abundance of student ingenuity" at the Venture Fund Pitch Day.

Learn more about The Hurt Hub, the Venture Fund and Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Davidson.

John Syme