Interview with Russ White: The Hurt Hub Muralist

Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you found yourself in an artistic career.

After graduating from Davidson in 2004 with a degree in Studio Art, I moved to Chicago on a whim with a group of friends and worked at various odd jobs for a while, ending up as a high-end cabinet maker for seven years. I kept making artwork nights and weekends, showing at small art fairs and maker marts. I’ve been welcomed with open arms by the arts community here and been very lucky to build a successful professional practice here as a self-employed artist.

How did you come to work with the Hurt Hub?

After inviting me to be a part of an alumni exhibition at the Van Every Gallery in 2019, Gallery Director Lia Newman suggested my name to the Hurt Hub, who had just started their search for a mural artist. I had previously been commissioned by the city of Hopkins, MN, to design a series of metal screens depicting the history of the city through vehicles, which was similar in approach to what the Hurt Hub had in mind, so it was a perfect fit!

What was your overall goal or what were you trying to convey with the piece?

My main goal was to bring some funky energy into the spaces, especially the Student Project Rooms. I also wanted to amplify the vibe of the Hurt Hub’s design elements — bright colors, youthful energy — while acknowledging the building’s history as a cotton mill.

What made you choose the specific colors that you chose in the mural?

I wanted each room to have its own identity, without losing any cohesion to the overall design. In working with the Hurt Hub management, we came up with color combinations that hopefully feel fun and inviting without being distracting from any work or presentations being made in the spaces — nothing too high contrast on the color wheel within each Project Room.

How long did the murals take you and what went into the planning process?

We worked on this project off and on over the course of nine months, delayed in large part because of the uncertainty around the pandemic. In December 2019, I spent time working in The Hub, walking the campus, and digging into a pile of materials that addressed some history about the cotton mill and the cotton mill industry. Turns out, to no one’s surprise, that the story of cotton in this country is one of racism, misogyny, and labor exploitation. We all agreed it was important to create designs that did not overly romanticize that past but paid respect to the labor that was done in this place.

How do you come up with ideas for your pieces?

I mostly just try to keep my antenna up, to catch what interests me so I can stay excited about my work. In the case of the Hurt Hub murals, we went through several different ideas and inspirations before finally landing on the gears and driving belts from old photos and diagrams of cotton mill machinery that I found in my research. The idea was to abstract what this space actually looked like 120 years ago. I see it as both an homage to the work that had been done here and a metaphor for the overarching energy of the Hurt Hub, driving different entrepreneurial endeavors forward.

How has art in general impacted your life and what is your most favorite project that you worked on?

Really good art punches you in the gut and pulls you in for a hug at the same time. Sometimes it whispers a joke in your ear as well. It’s some piece of a person’s humanity distilled into an object or a performance or an experience. Art is also a craft, a discipline, a practice of seeing and thinking and asking and making. It can connect you to people across cultures, across experiences, across eons. It’s the best.

I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember, although it took a while to get comfortable calling myself an artist. I come from a family of preachers and teachers, and being an artist, to me, is very similar except that I filter my experience of the world into images and objects, in the hopes that they will resonate with someone else and help them make some sense out of this hot mess we call reality.

As for favorites… the key to my success is that my favorite project is always the one I’m working on right now.

Emma BalinInterview with Russ White: The Hurt Hub Muralist
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Garcia Connects Charlotte Students with Resources

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten educational opportunities in the Charlotte area, especially for low-income students and students of color. QC EdConnect, however, is providing Charlotte parents a platform to connect with learning resources to help their children’s education. 

Wilbert Garcia ’21, a double major in computer science and PPE, spent his summer building the website. “I felt very strongly about creating a platform that connects students with educational resources,” he writes. “Schools provide a lot of resources to students from disadvantaged communities…QC EdConnect is working hard to make sure that these resources are visible and accessible to students and that barriers…are not getting in the way of that.”

The education startup “believes we each have a role to play to ensure that all children in Charlotte have access to an excellent education,” they write on their website. The website provides a map that indicates locations for food banks, clinics, academic support centers, childcare centers, and free WiFi stations.  

Garcia, a native Spanish speaker, also provided translation support to increase the website’s accessibility.

“I [also] helped make considerations about the user experience, what specific stakeholders might need, and what designs would help access resources most efficiently,” Garcia adds. “I…was able to present them a completed product in under a week.”

“Advocacy is also an important part of what QC EdConnect wants to do,” Garcia notes. By clicking on the tab that reads “Get Involved,” access a call script and email template that guides you finding the contact information of local school board members and location of school board meetings, a comprehensive list of articles about education inequity, and links to petitions for equitable education options.

Visitors can explore options to volunteer or donate supplies to organizations in need. “Consider volunteering, donating, or reaching out to organizations on their site to see how you can help,” Garcia says. “Share the website link with any Mecklenburg-based families, students, or educators in your personal network.”

 You can access the website at

Article written by Iain Anderson ’21

Emma BalinGarcia Connects Charlotte Students with Resources
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With Help from The Hurt Hub, New Owners of Elite Roofing Raise the Roof

Last December, co-owners Mick Koster and Ross Erickson acquired Elite Roofing, a small roofing service started in 2012 by Scott and Laura Himler. Koster and Erickson—who both left behind executive roles in corporate America—saw an opportunity to elevate Elite Roofing to the next level.

Along with investor and alternative energy expert Don Miller, Koster and Erickson wanted to continue the company’s commitment to exemplary craftsmanship and first-rate customer service, but expand the company’s product line. “We saw an opportunity to expand and scale the company by bringing in modern processes and technology…including adding in solar solutions to offer a turnkey solution for customers,” writes Koster, a former executive at Lowe’s Home Improvement, headquartered just down the road in Mooresville, NC. “We are strong believers in the opportunity residential and commercial solar energy offers long-term, and most companies are focused on either vertical almost exclusively. We believe that a roofing company that can address both solar and roofing customer needs will be more successful.”

The company also hopes the solar energy line will not only revolutionize the roofing industry, but will cultivate consumer accessibility to alternative energy. 

While some startups have struggled to stabilize because of the ongoing pandemic, Elite Roofing was fortunate to be classified as an essential business. “We’ve benefited from roofing and construction being considered an essential service since day 1.  Roofs still leak and people need to keep them in working order, so we have been able to continue operations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” Koster notes.

Accordingly, the company has used the summer to redesign their brand. With the help of Gig-Hub student consultant Brie Burrell ’23, the company updated their brand to complement their recent expansion. “Brie is an extremely talented individual that led the design and execution of our new Elite logo, color palette, and brand guidelines…She worked with us on understanding our brand positioning and growth plans, and then developed a number of creative designs and multiple iterations that did an excellent job of communicating our company’s key services.”

Elite Roofing also worked with Matt Cuddy—former Program Coordinator at The Hurt Hub and current owner of Third Cup Creative, a web design studio—to redesign the company’s website. “It was a seamless transition between Brie’s brand work and Matt’s technology and web design development that took our web presence from a liability to major asset,” Koster notes. 

For Koster, Gig-Hub was a mutually beneficial collaboration. The program provides startups an avenue to discover “talented, driven individuals [who] are hungry for some real-world projects to expand their skill set and gain some valuable experience.” On the flip side, working with Burrell and Cuddy gave Koster the rewarding opportunity to “pass along” the skills he’s learned from his career in marketing and software development. “It’s been a great mentoring opportunity for me…With over 25 years of marketing, software development, and new business development experience, it was fun to be able to pass along some of the insights and skills that I’ve learned developing multiple brands and consumer experiences.” 

Elite Roofing operates out of The Hurt Hub, which Koster praised for providing the space and community necessary to fulfill their mission of revolutionizing the roofing and alternative energy market in the Carolinas. “While it’s been a little abnormally quiet the last few months, the sense of community and engagement with other members has been great to see where we can help and learn from each other,” Koster notes. “Each and every day I see more evidence of how truly small our world is, and it’s great to make new connections, share experiences, and build relationships with such a vibrant community.  Our decision to locate in the Hurt Hub was a great one, and we couldn’t be happier with the experience so far.”

Emma BalinWith Help from The Hurt Hub, New Owners of Elite Roofing Raise the Roof
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Interview with Izzy Moody + Nelly Turnage: Founders of Bryan Skinwear

Interview with  Izzy Moody and Nellie Turnage , Founders of Bryan Skinwear

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

Bryan Skinwear offers a solution for skin imperfections and blemishes made specifically for men. Our simple and discrete products create a clean complexion in seconds and guarantee an effortless and attractive appearance. Our mission is simple: to give men the clear confidence they need to look their best!

How did you first get involved with the The Hurt Hub@Davidson?

When we first decided to start Bryan Skinwear, we asked friends and family for advice on where to even begin. We were told that The Hurt Hub at Davidson has many great resources for entrepreneurs, and they were right! There are so many resources from workshops to the mentorship program that we didn’t even know existed. As soon as we found out about everything the Hub offers, we immediately applied to the mentorship program to get involved!

What initially drew you to our mentor program?

Without any experience starting a company, we were lost on where to begin. When we came across the mentorship program on the Hurt Hub’s website, we thought it seemed like a great opportunity. In our initial meeting before getting accepted into the program, everyone was very welcoming and excited to help us! We are so grateful to be a part of the program and cannot wait to see where it takes us.

How have your mentors helped shape your venture? 

The mentors have really been a huge help. After our initial meeting before entering the program, the mentors urged us to create a business plan. This made us really think about what we want to achieve and how. Then, once we were introduced to Daryl and Joe – our current mentors – we were able to go in with a more concrete plan and hear their feedback. Recently, we have been discussing our prototype with them and what changes we want to make before mass-producing it. They have been very helpful giving us contacts and resources to use along the way. We cannot thank them enough for their help and we look forward to continuing to work with them.

Has Bryan Skinwear made any major pivots or progress due to COVID-19?

Bryan Skinwear has faced both pivots and made progress due to COVID-19. When the virus first hit, we were in the process of finding the perfect product by ordering samples. This process took longer than expected because many private label manufacturers closed or their samples were on backorder, causing a delay. On the bright side, we used the extra time off of school we had to conduct more market research and create marketing material.

What’s one thing you think everyone should know about you but probably doesn’t?

We are both members of the Davidson Field Hockey team, which we think gives us an extra competitive edge!

What is one fun fact or exciting thing about you two?

We were both born in Colorado, where Nellie still lives. We also met by chance at a recruiting event years before we ended up going to Davidson together. It’s crazy to think that now we have a business together!

Emma BalinInterview with Izzy Moody + Nelly Turnage: Founders of Bryan Skinwear
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Gig-Hub Transforms an Uncertain Summer

Following the nationwide shutdown in March due to COVID-19, hundreds of companies made the difficult choice to rescind in-person internship offers to college students. For students, internships and part-time summer positions provide essential stepping stones toward career development. 

In response, The Hurt Hub ramped up its efforts to provide a short-term solution to Davidson students: Gig-Hub. Gig-Hub employs students as consultants with strengths in one of eight different skill pools, such as marketing or data analytics.  After completing an orientation session–aptly named Gig-Hub 101–student consultants are matched with startups and companies with specific needs for short-term, paid jobs. In light of the internship shutdown, The Hurt Hub reported an increase in student demand for Gig-Hub projects.

Here are just a few examples of students and clients working together this summer through Gig-Hub:

Earlier this summer, Gig-Hub student Melanie McKenzie ‘21 designed animated infographics for TechChange, an online learning platform. “Most of the courses need graphic components like tables or animations…[so] lately…I’ve [developed] skills in graphic design on Adobe Illustrator,” she writes. 

Brie Burrell ’23, another Gig-Hub consultant, worked for Elite Roofing—a residential and commercial roofing startup based at The Hurt Hub—last April. “I headed the design and execution of their logo and helped add color and font information to their brand guidelines,” Burrell writes, “[It] allowed me to add my own creative flair and create something that we both love!”

Mick Koster, co-owner of Elite Roofing, noted how Burrell’s work exemplifies how consultants help build growing startups. “She [Brie] is an extremely talented individual that led the design and execution of our new Elite logo…she worked with us on understanding our brand positioning and growth plans, and then developed a number of excellent designs and multiple iterations that did an excellent job of communicating our company’s key services and would allow us to expand into solar without going through an additional major, disruptive graphic design change.” 

Burrell further mentioned her Gig-Hub work provided the opportunity to develop her graphic design skills: “I was able to learn a lot about brand development and that sometimes less is more…the experience allowed me to dive deeper into some of the “back-end” functions of the Adobe programs and broaden my knowledge.”

Beyond developing technical skills, McKenize also suggests Gig-Hub consultants receive essential exposure to the professional workplace, developing professional and interpersonal skills: “I also learned program manager skills…such as standardizing methods of communication [and] organiz[ing] meeting notes.”

McKenzie testified that the application process is “fast” and “super easy”: “Basically, you submit a resume [on Handshake]” followed with attendance at “Gig-Hub 101,” an orientation hosted by the Hurt Hub where “you fill out your skills and preferences for which sorts of gigs you…want to work.” After that, “you apply for individual gigs with clients, which are also posted on Handshake…Usually they only require that you submit your resume…[but sometimes] includes an interview.”

McKenzie does raise a fair concern: initial tasks for Gig-Hub students are smaller, and it requires a sizable amount of time before transitioning into bigger projects. “My work is composed of many smaller tasks,” she notes, “[but] I’ve noticed that through this summer, I’ve been able to dive deeper into projects and scope out what needs to get done without needing a To-Do list beforehand. I feel like I’ve gained more autonomy over my work and that’s been really rewarding.”

Both McKenzie and Burrell noted, however, that Gig-Hub effectively connected students with startups and companies. “I feel that the process is mutually beneficial. Consultants get to gain experience with real clients in what feels like an ‘I am my own boss’ job, while startups/companies get services at a reduced rate,” Burrell says, “It’s another ode to the strength and support of the Davidson community during our stages of development and growth.” Whereas students have lost summer internship opportunities, Gig-Hub has provided Davidson students the opportunity to develop their technical and professional skills. 

The Hurt Hub is currently accepting applications for Gig-Hub consultants. Interested students can find the application on Handshake

Emma BalinGig-Hub Transforms an Uncertain Summer
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Thinking Outside the Box: LEAPS Academy Fights Odds, Adapts to the COVID-19 Economy

Following the country’s shutdown last spring, business analysts theorized  a “startup depression”—new companies would hesitate to enter the job market because of the economic damage caused by the pandemic.

 Mariem Bchir ’19 and LEAPS Academy are fighting those odds.  

Last fall, Bchir and Walid Hedidar—a graduate from the University of Denver and current UNESCO Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education—were awarded a microgrant through The Hurt Hub’s Avinger Impact Fund for their project LEAPS Academy, a tutoring service for educators in Africa and the Middle East.

Each Fall and Spring, The Hurt Hub offers seed funding through the Avinger Impact Fund, a competition for aspiring Davidson entrepreneurs who “demonstrate a serious commitment to their proposed venture.” Launched in the honor of retired Economics professor Dr. Robert L. Avinger Jr, the Fund awards microgrants up to $10,000 to jumpstart their ideas. In Fall 2019, three projects were awarded grants: FundNet—proposed by Sebastian Charmot ’22 and Oğuzhan Colkesen ‘22—Impact Network—engineered by Emre Koc ’20, Altan Tutar ‘20, and Huseyin Altinsik ‘21—and LEAPS Academy, co-founded by Bchir.

LEAPS Academy “aims [to] revolution[ize] the design, delivery, and evaluation of teacher education…[and] create a network of super teachers…[to] develop students’ potential, reform educational structures, and revive learning ethics,” writes Bchir. LEAPS students complete a five-point curriculum, including training in leadership, ethical frameworks and trust-building, the “art” of teaching and experimental styles, educational psychology, and classroom construction.

Bchir founded LEAPS to combat the “educational crisis in Africa,” she says. Specifically, Bchir contends students in Africa and the Middle East struggle to access a quality education. By providing teachers “with support and training,” Bchir thinks students will have access to an education that will generate change “in and out of the classroom.”   

Initially, LEAPS intended to use the Avinger award to cover the costs of the program’s initial training in Tunisia. Given the unprecedented conditions imposed by COVID-19, LEAPS had to adapt: “The COVID-19 pandemic changed the trajectory of this year’s timeline,” Bchir writes, “we had to think outside the box and bring a more creative approach to teacher education. Since the beginning of the outbreak, we have been working on designing webinars for teachers in Tunisia and working on a virtual strategy for future work.” In fact, LEAPS has already made progress on designing virtual resources: “So far, we have organized a virtual webinar for teachers around education in times of cris[is]…We are also planning on shifting our summer training online.”

By the end of the year, Bchir plans to “invest the funds in providing accessible technology to our teachers [while] also preparing…our marketing strategy” including establishing LEAPS as an LLC in the US.

Beyond The Hurt Hub’s financial support, LEAPS’s exposure to the support team at the Hub trained them to adapt to unpredictable conditions.  “The Hub… provided the space and mentorship for LEAPS…[We] enjoyed brainstorming and creating content over the weekends in the Hurt Hub. Furthermore, we participated in several competitions such as Failure Fund, Venture Fund, and Avinger Fund [which] provided mentorship from amazing mentors.” In particular, Bchir wished to “shoutout” Evan Charles Rozantes of Launch Academy and Connyre Corbett from Corvos Labs + Venture Studio, who serve as the LEAPS team’s mentors. “They [to this day] continue [to] encourage us and give us constructive feedback.”

 While some worry of a “startup depression,”  LEAPS Academy exemplifies how small startups can pivot according to the economic climate and continue to develop. Perhaps having the ability to adapt will, in turn, develop into a successful business. 

Emma BalinThinking Outside the Box: LEAPS Academy Fights Odds, Adapts to the COVID-19 Economy
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One Year Later: Shea Parikh and “Jam” Adapt in 2020

Last year, six finalists—including three current Davidson students and three recent graduates—competed in the 2019 Davidson Venture Fund Pitch Competition (DVF), an annual event hosted by The Hurt Hub@Davidson. Winners of the competition are awarded a $25,000 seed investment to start their for-profit ventures. Contestants were given five minutes to pitch their ideas to a panel of investors and entrepreneurs, followed by a round of questioning from the panel. Their ideas ranged from an app to construct diet plans for cancer patients to a mobile beauty bar. After deliberating, the judges selected Shea Parikh ‘16 for his company Jam, which offers an app to help companies design face-to-face social interactions between employees, which leads to better relationships, connectivity and productivity across the firm.

After winning the 2019 DVF, the Davidson founder relocated to the greater New York City area to continue building Jam. Last month, Juan Diaz Mercado ‘22 checked in with Parikh to learn about Jam’s inaugural year.  

Parikh credits the generous investment from the DVF as the catalyst for the company’s development: “[the] direct investment [from DVF] helped give Jam the resources to hire engineers to continue building the product.” Beyond raw capital, he recognizes how the DVF “provided a platform to engage with Davidson alumni.” Parikh insists developing these connections were essential to Jam’s first steps: “establishing these connections…provided invaluable advice on how to navigate the early days of trying to get a company off the ground.”

However, Parikh reports that communications with the consumer significantly contributed to Jam’s growth over the last year. He writes that at the beginning of the year, Jam started “simply” as a “culture-building tool” which “uses metadata from communication networks…to help employees find the people and information they need.” Over the past year, the company pivoted its business model: “we learned there was value in [culture-building]…value [that] companies were willing to pay for. [So] over the past year we’ve learned we were dancing around a much bigger opportunity.” Through conversations with the consumer, Jam “moved away” from an optional culture-building tool to “an internal communications tool…for larger companies.”

According to Parikh, this dialogue with the customers—the “getting feedback, positive or constructive”—was his favorite experience. “It’s largely humbling because you realize customers don’t actually want the thing you think they want…with every new conservation, I think we take one step closer to finding that fit which is very exciting.”

But perhaps the defining moment of Jam’s inaugural year would be the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ongoing pandemic—which has closed down businesses across the nation and forced many to work from home—made Parikh realize the importance of interpersonal communication. Accordingly, he made it Jam’s mission to maintain cross-team communication under these unprecedented conditions: “COVID has made it painfully clear that remote work is here to stay. Going forward, Jam can play an integral part in helping employees access the information and the people they need to do their best work.”  

Parikh concluded the interview with some advice to future DVF applicants: “Absolutely apply [for the DVF]…If you have an idea you’re excited about and you’ve done some work to validate it, the worst thing that can happen is you don’t win. On the upside, you receive some capital that can jumpstart growth and you get a platform to connect with the Davidson alum base.” 

Although the 2020 DVF Pitch Competition scheduled for late April was postponed due to COVID-19, The Hurt Hub looks forward to rescheduling it when it is safe for the community to return to campus. 

The author, Iain Anderson, would like to thank Juan Diaz Mercado ‘22 for sharing his interview notes. 

Emma BalinOne Year Later: Shea Parikh and “Jam” Adapt in 2020
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