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Students, Alumni and College Embrace Venture Challenges as Paths Toward Dreams

A Davidson College student project and a project from two alumni are among nineteen selected from 95 entrants to compete in the finals of the 12th Annual Charlotte Venture Challenge (CVC) on May 1 at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The grand prize winning project, selected by a panel of "investor" judges, will receive $25,000.

An additional $50,000 will be shared by winners in categories such as Consumer Products & Services, Life Sciences & Biotechnology, IT & Informatics, New Energy & High Tech, Undergraduate Student Ventures, and Graduate Student Ventures. Prize funds are being provided by the Hauser Family Fund.

The CVC is organized by UNC Charlotte and attracts entrants from throughout the Southeast. The event is open to the public. Register to attend the finals.

Among the CVC category finalists is "Brush Fairy," a venture created by Davidson alumni Rex Salisbury '10 and Mike Loeb '12. Their start-up would deliver new, high-quality toothbrushes every three months to homes with children. Each brush comes with a personalized note from the "Brush Fairy" (the Tooth Fairy's sister!), highlighting her adventures traveling the world.

Salisbury and Loeb developed their idea during a Charlotte Startup Weekend in January. Billed as a "crash course in company creation," the curriculum was designed to help entrepreneurs make the leap from idea to business plan in three days with advice from volunteer developers, researchers and veteran start-up founders.

The CVC undergraduate student category finalists include "PAX Backpacks," a for-profit social venture proposed by Joe Morrison '14 to give children the opportunity to succeed in the classroom, while providing customers with a fashionable, durable product.

Morrison explained that twenty-two percent of children in the United States under age 18 live in poverty, so PAX Backpacks will donate 22 percent of profits to community organizations and nonprofits working in education. He will focus his philanthropy on the communities that are purchasing the product.

PAX Backpacks recently won second prize of $1,000 at Davidson College's own new venture project competition. The college's inaugural "Ideas of March" social innovation competition was organized that month by the college's Center for Civic Engagement, and attracted six entrants.

First prize of $2,000 went to a project called "Youth Marketing And Photography (Youth.MAP). That project will introduce at-risk youth at the Barium Springs Home for Children in nearby Troutman to the art of photography. The five students spearheading Youth.Map -- Aly Dove '16, Max Feinstein '16, Jessica Gumucio '16, Kyle Taylor '16 and Catherine Wu '16 -- plan to recruit Davidson student mentors to present ten-weeks of photography education to participants. The program will culminate with a gala at which the young photographers will show off and market their artwork.

Kristin Booher, Davidson's Director of Community Service and Bonner Scholar Programs,  said Ideas of March was inspired by the Charlotte Venture Challenge and other competitive venture events. One of them is the annual SEED-20, a Charlotte-based competition organized by Social Venture Partners, a nonprofit founded by Will Miller '78 and supported by several other Charlotte-area Davidson alumni.

Booher said, "Competitions like these are opportunities for our students to consider original, creative responses to real world situations. We also like this model because creating the presentation and presenting to an audience is a valuable and transferable process, no matter what students do in the future."

Given the success of the initial Ideas of March, Booher said organizers are considering making next year's version a more festive event, with entertainment and a reception. They may also invite local business leaders, alumni and past winners to serve as judges.

To further encourage and support students with an entrepreneurial spirit, the college has recently founded the Davidson College Venture Lab. Located in Uptown Charlotte's Packard Place, "DC Venture Lab" will be a full-time, immersive 10-week summer program that provides experiential education for both private and not-for-profit student ventures.

In this initial year, DC Venture Lab will accommodate two students. Joe Morrison '14 will continue to work on his backpack project, and Tori Mayernick '14 will develop "Hives for Lives," a non-profit venture that markets honey and donates profits to cancer research and people suffering from cancer. Mayernick is one of two inaugural holders of the college's Robert L. Avinger Jr. Entrepreneurial Scholarship, which goes to students who demonstrate entrepreneurial spirit and creativity.


Joe Morrison '14 received this year's Dreams Into Action Award at the Celebration of Service for his work on the Pax Backpack project.

The Youth.MAP team that won the college's inaugural "Ideas of March" event includes (l-r)  first-year students Jessica Gumucio, Max Feinstein, Catherine Wu and Aly Dove. Team member Kyle Taylor is not pictured.