Tech Impact Fund to Pair Businesses With Students Looking for Paid Hands-on Experience

Whitney White headshot, smiling

Whitney A. White ’08, Afara Global
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Brie Burrell ’23 has a full plate. The first-generation college student from Florida is a member of Davidson’s track team and soon, will be declaring a double major in studio art and psychology.

Thanks to the Jay Hurt Hub for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, and specifically the Gig-Hub program, she has been able to add in some real-life work experience, ranging from logo design and branding guidelines to coloring book illustration. And she gets paid for it.

“I feel like I’m my own boss with a great deal of autonomy, but then I also get amazing mentorship from the companies that hire me,” she said. “I am interested in going into marketing after college and maybe having a start-up on the side, so I’m getting to see what the process is like. Plus, if my available time to work on a project is 10 p.m., that’s okay.”

The Gig-Hub program provides a platform for local businesses to hire current Davidson students for short-term work involving market research, copywriting, data analytics, web development and other skills. A recent investment from Whitney A. White ’08 to expand the Hurt Hub’s Tech Impact Fund, a fund she started in 2015, means more companies—specifically women-owned and underrepresented minority-owned businesses—will have the opportunity to hire students at no cost to them.

A 2020 U.S. Census Bureau report estimated that there are 1.1 million women-owned businesses and 1 million minority-owned businesses—numbers that continue to grow. Fortune magazine reported more than six years ago that Black women were the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the United States, and the fact remains true today.

“Innovation has the power to be a game changer for individuals and for businesses,” White said. “When students have hands-on experiences, they can really move the needle for businesses that need it right now, in this moment in our economy and in this moment in the pandemic.”

White, a Belk Scholar at Davidson, calls herself a maximizer of people and potential, a strength she uncovered and sharpened as a Davidson student and that remains a key factor in much of her success. She has run Afara Global, an innovation firm to help startup companies, corporate teams and non-profits develop new products and services, since 2011, and in 2018 started a coaching practice, Take Back Your Time, which empowers individuals to realize the visions they have for their lives, both personally and professionally.

“I get excited about seeing potential and taking it to the next level,” she said. “Whether advising Fortune 500 companies, non-profits or start-ups, or through my coaching business, I love to see potential and bring it into the world. I’m overjoyed that I can help maximize the potential of Davidson students while also maximizing more and more businesses that are in need of our support during a very challenging time.”

Win-Win Partnership

Industry leaders rave about their experiences with Davidson students and the ways they are able to jump into their organizational cultures, learn quickly, dig into problems and create solutions.

Katie Hotze, founder and CEO of Grocery Shopii, has hired two Gig-Hub students, Amani Sodhi ’23 and Alejandro Solares ’24, since launching her company in May 2019, and she looks forward to adding to their hours, as they’ve eagerly requested.

Grocery Shopii is a digital application that adds personalized meal planning directly into grocers’ e-commerce platforms, allowing for easier, faster meal planning for shoppers.

Amani focuses on social media, helping with LinkedIn posts and researching plans for a private Facebook users’ group.

“The beauty of it for the students is that they get to own every step of building something, with our guidance. From a business owner perspective, I have the ability to fulfill interesting, unique needs without expectations around how many hours it might take,” Hotze said. “We just start working, and we keep going until it’s finished.”

Hotze’s other Gig-Hub hire helps with the company’s bookkeeping, partnering on solutions using the software QuickBooks. She’s interested in hiring a third student down the road to provide sales support.

“Alejandro is self-taught in this area, and that was my dream,” she said. “I only know enough to be dangerous, and he is already representing the company, having calls with QuickBooks. He’s bold, confident and dying to learn.”

No matter students’ interests and career paths, the value for students and for companies is boundless.

“I did not come into Davidson thinking I would go into business,” White said. “I thought I’d be a lawyer. But through the process of exploring law and what that would look like as a career, seeking out mentors and advice from alumni, I discovered other interests. So much of that experience and mentorship is what I build on in my business and as an entrepreneur. I’m really excited for Davidson students and the networking they can do as part of the Tech Impact Fund.”

Liz Smith Brigham ’04, director of the Hurt Hub, looks forward to what White’s additional investment and the future of Gig-Hub will bring to companies and students alike.

“The specific focus of this expansion, to support women and minority-owned business, will make a difference as companies aim to thrive in the Charlotte region and beyond,” she said. “Davidson students are eager to learn and eager to serve the greater community, and the Tech Impact Fund makes these mutually beneficial partnerships possible, affordable and successful.”  

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