Interview With Bill Freeman: Co-Founder of PureSkill.gg

Interview With Bill Freeman, Co-Founder of PureSkill.gg

Tell me about your business, PureSkill.gg. Can you describe it in 2 sentences?

PureSkill.gg is an automated AI videogame coach. We help players get better by telling them what they’re doing wrong and how to fix it. 

When did you start PureSkill.gg and why?

It started as a project to get myself into Data Science after graduating with a Ph.D. in physics. This was in late 2018. I wanted to explore data that I enjoyed working with (video game replay files). On the side, I was helping players who were struggling to get better with their play. The combination of these two is basically where PureSkill.gg came from. I met my two co-founders in graduate school and we had stayed connected through playing videogames.

Now, what’s one thing we should know about Bill Freeman that most people don’t know?

I played the saxophone for 10 years and at LSU during my freshman year.  I also played Rugby for LSU my sophomore year! 

Has  PureSkill.gg  made any pivots recently due to COVID-19?

Gaming is one of the industries that is increasing during this time. Our business plan has not fundamentally changed but we are moving faster. The NC IDEA Micro grant came just at the right time to help us do that. 

Congrats on the NC IDEA Micro Grant (1 of only 16 companies to be awarded $10,000)! Can you tell me a little bit about your application process and how you plan to use the grant money?

This is the third time I have applied for a grant from NC IDEA. The first time was in 2018 before the business was fully formed. The second time was the fall of 2019 when we were further along. Those first two were applications to the SEED grant ($50,000) and then we switched to the Micro-Grant for the third time. It was helpful to go through and answer the application questions. It teaches you what you don’t know about your business. Each time, the application process got easier and we were able to complete it faster.

We are using most of the funds to update the frontend of our application. Right now we have built a lot of the backend software but the frontend is not where we want it to be. The microgrant will help push us forward. 

What does your team look like right now?

We have three co-founders. Me in Mooresville, Evan Sosenko in San Francisco and Ethan Batson in Seattle. From the beginning, our company has always been remote so that has not changed with us. With the funds, we are bringing in a front-end contractor. 

Have you leveraged the Hurt Hub’s network during this time? If so, how?

Yes, I have used a lot of resources out of The Hurt Hub. I attend Startup Grind Meetings, Pitch Breakfast, and 1 Million Cups. We also have two business mentors from The Hurt Hub Mentor Program. Additionally, I participated in a panel about esports investing at The Hurt Hub and I have leveraged the surrounding Charlotte entrepreneurial ecosystem.

I think I found out about the NC IDEA grants through something at The Hurt Hub!

How have you or your company grown since entering The Hurt Hub Mentor Program?

It was a very easy process to get mentors through The Hurt Hub. We have had a few meetings with them and they have helped advise on a few tricky business problems.

What are the next steps for you? 

The end result of the front end revamp will be a “pay what you want”, Kickstarter style of monetization. This will help us understand how much people will pay for our product at an early stage (when we don’t have a complete product yet). We believe this will be a good indicator of our long term success. 

What keeps you up at night these days?

The level of power that game developers have. Game developers have shut down similar companies for helping players while they are playing the game (which gives them an unfair advantage). We always help after they’re done playing, and we are confident that the symbiotic nature of our product with the game developers will only lead us to a good relationship.

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve made for your business? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

I think our WordPress developer is our best investment. We lucked out by finding a low-cost overseas contractor who did really high-quality work to get some of our very early work done. 

What is a common advice, business philosophy, or metric that you do not subscribe to or actively advocate against? Why?

I think I might be against most advice in general. You know your business the best so be careful about taking advice. Feel free to not take everyone’s advice. 

Anything else you’d like to share?

Even though two of our co-founders are not in Charlotte, this is very much Charlotte-based company. A ton of resources have come of Charlotte and that is from all the networking and connecting that I’ve down here. The Hurt Hub has really helped out.

Emma BalinInterview With Bill Freeman: Co-Founder of PureSkill.gg
read more

Interview With Ciara May: Founder of Rebundle

Interview with Ciara May, Founder and CEO of Rebundle

Tell me about your business, Rebundle. Can you describe it in 2 sentences?

Rebundle is a synthetic hair brand that is better for the scalp and better for the environment. My mission is to eliminate single-use plastic waste and skin rashes from the hair.

When did you start Rebundle and why?

I was working at Johnson C. Smith and my boss was flexible and one summer I got really into sustainability. To rewind a bit, when I joined VFA (Summer of 2018) I was completely bald and was wearing braids back to back for months. My head was on fire all the time from the itching. I started researching what the hair was made out of and realized a lot of women were having the same issues. Simultaneously, I   found out the hair was made of plastic and I wanted to find a way to recycle it. The point of Rebundle was to stop the waste and stop my scalp from  itching. I immediately knew Rebundle was a viable business. I thought of the idea last June (2019) and applied for my first grant in July. I have always been entrepreneurial in nature and so I had the resources to start putting my ideas to paper. The first thing I did was call anyone who might be helpful and conduct customer discovery. 

Now, what’s one thing we should know about Ciara that most people don’t know?

I’d like to think that my superpower is figuring things out and calling on people for help. I think this is a unique skill that not many people realize can help get your company from point A to point B. I get really creative to get the answers that I need. 

Has  Rebundle made any pivots recently due to COVID-19?

Since pre-launch I had intended to spend this time in salons with stylists learning how to get their business. Instead, I have been calling them to do this research. I also am going to start letting anyone (not just friends) mail in their hair to recycle. 

Congrats on the NC IDEA Micro Grant (1 of only 16 companies to be awarded $10,000)! Can you tell me a little bit about your application process and how you plan to use the grant money?

I came up with the idea last June, and  immediately got serious about grants. I went through the UNCC Ventureprise discovery program and thought that would help me get an NC IDEA grant. I applied last year and did not receive the grant. This time around, I focused more on tangible ideas. I showed them how the funding will help me get my idea from point A to B.   

I plan to spend most of my grant money on manufacturing and some on pilots with salons once they reopen. The rest will be used for marketing and my website. 

What does your team look like right now?

It has been just me all this time. I actually had a conversation yesterday with a woman who has a background in chemistry. I’ve been looking for a technical co-founder since day one. I have a lot of mentors who I lean on for very specific reasons such as accounting or marketing but I am the only full-time team member.

Have you leveraged the Hurt Hub’s network during this time? If so, how?

Yes, I have two mentors from the program. At first, I met with them on a monthly basis but now I reach out to them as needed. I speak to my mentor Louis pretty regularly. I like to figure out what I need and who has it. I spend a lot of time on the phone. 

How have you or your company grown since entering The Hurt Hub Mentor Program?

Well I hadn’t received my NC IDEA grant prior to joining the mentor program! My mentor, Louis, helped me focus on proving out the business model which was crucial to winning the grant.

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve made for your business? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

Time. I left my job at Johnson C. Smith to work at a Fintech company to learn new skills. But by working at the fintech company, I had lost my time. I am now working full time on Rebundle.

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

Asking for help.

Emma BalinInterview With Ciara May: Founder of Rebundle
read more

A Quarantine Business?

Written by Lauren Wolfe ’20 (Failure Fund Recipient)

Last spring while browsing the internet for a birthday present, I found the perfect gift on Etsy—a customized bracelet with my friend’s initials. After I saw her wearing it, I realized I could make the same bracelet for a fraction of what I paid. I started researching exactly what I needed to make and sell stamping jewelry myself.

Serendipitously, I learned about Davidson’s Failure Fund at the same time. I wrote up a proposal to cover the cost of the materials (steel block, hammer, stamps, ink, bending tools, bracelets and discs) and was thrilled when they approved my idea. I ordered all the tools and started making jewelry.

One thing I learned running my Etsy shop was how quickly expenses can add up. I originally thought I only needed the tools previously mentioned. As an inexperienced seller, I never thought about things like jewelry boxes to put the finished pieces in, jute twine to wrap the boxes, poly mailers, packing tape, jewelry pliers, shipping label pouches. Or the cost of the wasted raw material I had to discard when the personalized pieces I stamped were not ‘perfect’ enough to be sold.

With the support of the Failure Fund, I learned to think more thoroughly and comprehensively about running a small business, from how one should request samples of the raw material before purchasing in bulk to packaging and shipping, and the importance of carefully budgeting for every step in the process.

Now that everyone is in quarantine, I noticed that loungewear is really popular. My Instagram explore page is inundated with expensive (and mostly sold-out) tie-dyed sweatshirts and sweatpants sets. Based on my jewelry-selling experience, I was pretty sure I could run a profitable tie-dye loungewear business. I bought a few crewnecks and some Rit dye in colors I thought would be popular. I loved the way they turned out! I thought other people would too, so I applied for the Failure Fund again. I’m unbelievable grateful Davidson offers a grant like this that encourages students to explore their dream business opportunities by offering start-up capital. Thank you so much, Failure Fund!

Emma BalinA Quarantine Business?
read more

The Hurt Hub Presses On: Marketing Guru Meg Seitz and her Virtual Office Hours

To protect against the spread of COVID-19, Davidson College has closed its doors for the semester. Classes have moved online, typically meeting via Zoom; spring sports have been canceled; the campus is mostly empty. But as Wildcats always do, we persist. Our community remains resilient, even in these adverse times. Despite our dispersion across the globe, we remain connected; our unity and dedication to our community provide a glimmer of hope in these historical times.   

In true Wildcat spirit, The Hurt Hub remains committed to providing entrepreneurial assistance to the community.  Although they are not hosting entrepreneurial programming in person (to comply with the NC Stay at Home order in April), The Hurt Hub is offering virtual office hours. Members of The Hurt Hub community—experts in various disciplines—have opened their (virtual) offices to discuss everything from business model pivots to legal questions about the CARES Act.

One of these experts is Meg Seitz, a marketing//brand/storytelling expert and marketing class instructor at The Hurt Hub. In her virtual office, Seitz offers help in branding and communications: “A lot of times it’s listening to where someone is right now and where they’re struggling and helping them think through that next step.” She further offers, “A series of next steps will get you where you need to be, and I’m happy to listen and offer ideas that get you moving again.”

Seitz also says that her office hours are “casual” and do not require an extensive agenda: “Come as you are, let’s talk and riff on where you are, and what’s a struggle for you right now when it comes to branding and marketing…you’ll leave with a next action step to keep moving.” Seitz also invites people to chat about post-COVID strategies: “There will be a time when all this is over – let’s plan for and talk about that time; what’s next for THAT stage in life.”

Like the other Hurt Hub experts, Seitz’s schedule is flexible; people can schedule 15- or 30-minutes session anywhere between 8am and 7pm: “I know a lot of people and businesses have a lot on their minds, so I’m happy to serve others at a time that works for you…just practicing real flexibility and agility right now to serve others.” Signing up for virtual office hours is easy, too: Seitz says you can simply go the Hurt Hub website, find her page, and click on her Calendly—an online appointment scheduling service. From there, select the time that “works best for you…and I’ll be happy to chat!”

Seitz provided a sample of her advice. When asked about her current working conditions, she acknowledged difficulty with staying motivated:  “I’m not going to lie–staying motivated right now has been a struggle… I’ve been frustrated that I can’t access my creativity as easily right now because my brain feels like it’s thinking about everything and nothing all at the same time.” Her solution?  “I’ve found that I can get through days in snackable chunks of time…so I’ve found I need to break up time more…I will also add that Summit’s drive-thru and milk bread donuts have been a real bright spot in my life…”

From quarantine motivational tips to starting your startups, five other experts are available for virtual office hours: Chris Langford on venture capital; Lyle Garret on legal affairs; David Nason on HR questions; Jon Boggiano on startup practices; and consultant Cynthia Beiler on creative sales strategies.

Office hours are free of charge and open to anyone. Sign-ups for these experts are part of the Hurt Hub’s Virtual Resources page, which is regularly being updated, so keep checking back for new ideas!

Emma BalinThe Hurt Hub Presses On: Marketing Guru Meg Seitz and her Virtual Office Hours
read more

Start(up) Your Engines: Inaugural Techstars Startup Weekend at the Hurt Hub

On the first weekend of February, The Hurt Hub hosted their inaugural “Techstars Startup Weekend”—a hands-on 54-hour workshop which brought together active and aspiring entrepreneurs to workshop ideas for a startup. Participants—which included Davidson students, high schoolers, and community members— arrived on Friday and formed teams. By the end of the weekend they had brainstormed and developed a business plan, consulted with mentors, and delivered an investor pitch (with a working prototype) to a panel of judges.

Emma Balin, the Program Catalyst for the Hurt Hub, writes that the workshop aspired “to introduce our participants to esteemed entrepreneurs…as they refine their ideas and craft their pitches…[We aim] to simulate the startup process, in a fast-paced weekend intensive.”

Following an ice-breaker and networking session over dinner, participants listened to a brief lecture on basic startup methodologies. Each participant, then, prepared and presented a sixty-second startup pitch to their peers. Attendees voted on their favorite ideas and the top 9 ideas became the projects for the weekend. 

 One of those ideas came from Lorena James, a junior Environmental Social Science major: “I worked with a team of three to develop WeTat, a brand that replaces boring event nametags with scannable temporary tattoos,” James writes. “Our product would personalize the networking experience by allowing conferences to provide WeTats to their attendees.”

The next day, groups worked on their projects with occasional breaks to listen to brief lectures from industry leaders in the Charlotte area. Furthermore, volunteer mentors consulted with each of the groups, asking questions and helping refine their pitches. According to James, “all of our mentors were of great help, but some of their advice was contradictory. It was up to us…[to] decide on which advice to accept and which to ignore.” James, however, further acknowledges how this contradictory information allows her to understand how entrepreneurs approach advice: “ask a lot of questions and don’t be afraid to pivot more if necessary.”

On the last day, each group presented their business model—including, for some groups, a working prototype—to the judges. “In the end, we decided to go with temporary tattoos in order to reach a wider market. Using QR code technology, we were able to develop a prototype using printers at The Hurt Hub,” James notes.

James writes “[The workshop] effectively simulated…the startup process,” emphasizing that the fast-paced, community-based environment mimics her own startup experiences. James further writes she “recommend[s] the experience to anyone looking to start their own business venture.”

Student work from Startup Weekend, such as “WeTat,” exemplifies the Hurt Hub’s commitment to providing accessible resources for students interested in entrepreneurship. The former cotton mill on Delberg Street provides exceptional opportunities, such as the Techstars Startup Weekend, which connects inspired Davidson students with the greater Charlotte business community, providing avenues for post-collegiate success and building stronger bonds between college and community. 

Emma BalinStart(up) Your Engines: Inaugural Techstars Startup Weekend at the Hurt Hub
read more

“I Began to Work for Myself”: A Profile on Award-Winning Entrepreneur Katie Hotze

Katie HotzeKatie Hotze, founder and CEO of Grocery Shopii, is dedicated to helping working parents prepare dinner.

Hotze—former digital marketer for a global consulting firm—understands the burden of cooking each night after a long day of work, especially after having her first child: “It was exhausting,” she writes, “This daily battle with dinner was a commonality among all of [my] ‘mom friends’…I knew there had to be a better way…”

Hotze accepted the challenge: she envisioned different ideas, tested them with friends and family, and soon began to “flesh out” her idea with a mentor, all while working full-time and pursuing an MBA from the College of William & Mary.

Then she was laid off from her job.

“I decided that was the day that I began to work for myself,” Hotze says, “I had the time and energy needed to figure it out. I immediately applied to the Ventureprise customer discovery startup incubator with UNC-Charlotte and began my journey to creating the ideal product/market fit.”

Grocery Shopii is a “digital meal planning application that allows grocery shoppers to manage their meal planning, online grocery shopping, and check-out in five minutes or less,” says Hotze. The consumer selects a recipe that the app delineates precise amounts of ingredients and then automatically places in a shopping cart.

After a year, Progressive Grocer named Grocery Shopii the industry’s Best Tech Application of 2019.

Since last May, Hotze and her team have used the resources at the Hurt Hub, including the newfound Gig-Hub program. “The intense support system at the Hub was the greatest surprise,” Hotze writes, “through events, ad hoc introductions, and in-house mentorship…there is always someone available to answer a question, offer advice, or dial-up support.” 

When asked what advice she would give to an aspiring entrepreneur, Hotze suggests “find a support system…don’t try to build a company on your own. Groups like LaunchLKN and Ventureprise exist so that people with an idea and a dream can dial-up the support systems needed to find their momentum.” She emphasizes “these programs are designed to support your exploration.  No one expects you to have a fully fleshed idea when you walk through the doors to gain support.

Her next steps? “We gained the attention of Mercatus, one of grocery’s largest eCommerce platforms headquartered in Toronto, who offered us a partnership agreement and immediately began introducing us to their stores,” Hotze says, “We now have a rich pipeline of grocers and a very busy schedule as we close out 2019.” 

Emma Balin“I Began to Work for Myself”: A Profile on Award-Winning Entrepreneur Katie Hotze
read more