Meet The Students Who Are Piloting the First Davidson College Venture Lab

VentureLab_Week1

Recently, Davidson College created a new intiative around entrepreneurship. The first program from this new Davidson initiative is the Davidson College Venture Lab, which is a start-up incubator that provides mentorship and resources to student entrepreneurs and founders. The programs runs for 11 weeks from early June to mid-August and provides student teams with grants of $3.5K.  The first two students selected to pilot the program are rising Davidson seniors Joe Morrison of Pax Backpacksa social venture which donates 22 percent of its profit to causes that support disadvantaged students, and Tori Mayernick from Hives for Lives, which sells honey to raise money for cancer research. Throughout the summer, I’ll be documenting their experiences. You can access the whole series here

This is the first installment in the series.

Education shouldn’t just be confined to sitting in a classroom. So far, my career has been influenced more by what I have learned and experienced outside of the classroom and not inside of it. If you’re a college student and interested in entrepreneurship, you may find it difficult to find a vibrant support system and community if you don’t go to a school like Stanford, which has already built a strong entrepreneurship culture. And with the world economy still struggling to overcome its challenges, many students are asking for more resources centered around entrepreneurship. For them, it’s a way for them to channel their passions and interests into something that can potentially create value for others and a purpose for themselves.

Davidson College has figured it out and created a new initiative focused around entrepreneurship. According to Allison Dulin, who works in the President’s Office at Davidson, many alumni have given feedback, saying they would have greatly benefited from such programs back when they were in school. The first program from this new Davidson initiative is the Davidson College Venture Lab, which is a start-up incubator that provides mentorship and resources to student entrepreneurs and founders. The program is selective and provides student teams with grants of $3.5K. It runs for eleven weeks from June 3 to August 16. Participants have access to the Queen City Forward space in Packard Place with free Wi-Fi and access to conference rooms.

The first two students selected to pilot the program are rising Davidson seniors Joe Morrison and Tori Mayernick. Morrison founded Pax Backpacks, a social venture which donates 22 percent of its profit to causes that support disadvantaged students while Mayerick helped to start non-profit Hives for Lives in high school – the company sells honey and revenues go toward cancer research. So far, the company has donated over $200K to cancer research.

Davidson Venture Lab participants Joe Morrison (left) and Tori Mayernick (right)

Davidson Venture Lab participants Joe Morrison (left) and Tori Mayernick (right)

The two entrepreneurs are like-minded but their companies are at different stages. Hives for Lives’ product is already in stores such as Whole Foods while Morrison’s company is at a much earlier stage. They sit a few feet away from each other and have already formed a community between the two of them, but they’re also around other Charlotte entrepreneurs on a daily basis. “What I suspect is that because we’re essentially working in the co-shared space that Queen City Forward offers, that we’ll be over time integrated into that existing entrepreneurial community,” says Morrison. “[Mayernick and I] will have a special relationship with each other because we’re both going through this program but I’ll think we’re also going to benefit a lot from the right relationships that we form with other people outside of the program.”

A loosely structured environment gives Mayernick and Morrison the freedom and flexibility to network with other entrepreneurs and work on their individual projects. The grants allow them to work on their ideas full-time during the summer instead of having to work another job. They are paired with one or two primary mentors and have opportunities to go to workshops. These are mentors who are in demand and valued by the community. Before Mayernick met her mentor George McAllister, the regional director for the Small Business and Technology Development Center, she was hearing about him. “Everybody’s been like he’s incredible, you’re going to love him, he’s so well connected, everybody knows him,” says Mayernick. She also adds that he is a beekeeper which is always a plus when your company sells honey.

Mayernick is looking to improve her online marketing skills to help continue growing Hives for Lives but she also hopes to learn about how the entrepreneurial community works and wants to know how to run different kinds of businesses. Since Hives for Lives is student-run, she’ll have to give it up when she graduates next year, but she expects to be much more well-versed about social entrepreneurship by the end of the program and use that knowledge for the next venture she pursues. For Morrison, he is grateful to be able to work on his idea full-time, which allows him to focus on his business. “That’s really necessary to get it off the ground in a ten-week span like this summer,” he says. “I’m very excited about that.”

Mayernick and Morrison have agreed to check in with me every week as they go through the program. I’ll document their experiences and progress as they navigate through the waters of Charlotte’s entrepreneurial community.

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