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
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Ready, Set, Start-up: Spring Courses at the Hurt Hub

HeadshotThis term, the Hurt Hub will expand its educational opportunities by offering three courses about startups. Their spring catalog includes “Understating Lean Startup Practices,” taught by lead instructor Rebecca Weeks Watson, founder of The Reveal Company and local entrepreneur.  

The class “aim[s] to give participants knowledge, tools, resources, and encouragement…to launch their own startup process,” Watson explains. She further insists on another goal, challenging her students: “my hope is that participants will have discovered that pushing themselves out of their comfort zone and evolving quickly are more fun and rewarding than they ever imagined this course gives people permission to try something new and be okay with whatever comes of that effort.”   

Her course will investigate the “Lean Startup method,” a non-traditional business model first proposed by Eric Ries in his 2011 best-seller The Lean Startup. According to Watson, Lean Startup is a business method that “uses a fast, nimble and cost-efficient process to improve its chances for success.” She suggests that unlike the “old-fashioned business model,” a Lean Startup prioritizes the customer’s needs: “it starts…a hypothesis, meeting with potential customers to more deeply understand the problem, launching an early version of a product to test if it truly solves that problem, measuring results…customers — and how they use the product or service — are always the true north.” Several popular companies—including Dropbox, Zappos, and Airbnb—grew from a Lean Startup business model.  

Although the fundamentals of the course will borrow from Ries’s The Lean Startup, Watson promises her own “spin”: “I’ve supplemented each topic with tangible before-and-after startup examples, videos, quotes, and interviews.” Watson will “also bring in successful founders as guest speakers — some from Charlotte, some from New York or Silicon Valley — to describe their…startup journey.”

Along with Watson’s innovative course, the Hurt Hub will offer two other courses on Startup studies: “Financing a Startup” and “Startup Legal Matters.” All of these courses are free for Davidson students, faculty and staff and $99 for the general public. If you are interested, you can register online at https://flywheel.courses/.

Matt CuddyReady, Set, Start-up: Spring Courses at the Hurt Hub
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“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
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You’re never too young to found a business (or two).

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Meet Dan Murphy—class of ‘21, economics major, founder of Rize Solutions Inc, founder of In-Connect, partner at HeliumIQ and partner at Gusher. Murphy transferred to Davidson College this spring semester after a year and a half of building some exciting entrepreneurial achievements during his freshman year of college at Susquehanna University. During his freshman year there he became the CEO and founder of In-Connect, a social network where entrepreneurs can find resources and other like-minded entrepreneurs.

Soon after the start of In-Connect, Murphy met the CEO of HeliumIQ, Steve Boerner. After realizing their two companies shared many of the same goals and interests, the two entrepreneurs merged their companies. From this merger, not only did Murphy get an exciting new opportunity but also a mentor who became an integral part of his success.

“[Boerner] helped mold my first experience as an entrepreneur, and that’s when I think entrepreneurs are most fragile;if they don’t have a good experience the first time then they are unlikely to continue,” Murphy said.  “He took a chance on me and ever since then he has really helped and advocated for me. Without him I don’t think I would have continued.”

With the help of his new mentor, Murphy followed his passion of finding innovative and seamless ways for entrepreneurs to network, connect and develop their ideas into businesses. This led Murphy to found his second business—all before sophomore year of college—Rize Solutions Inc. This network connects entrepreneurs with service providers.

What does the future look like for Murphy and his partners? They will continue to expand their  businesses, especially into universities and internationally. Now, just as his team advanced their international networks in places like Amsterdam and Israel, Murphy advanced his education by transferring to Davidson College.

Not only was Davidson one of Murphy’s top choices while in high school, but he also believes such a rich ecosystem could help him to expand his business by generating great new ideas.

“By coming to Davidson I am hoping to meet more like-minded people in a rigorous academic environment. With these different passions surrounding me and my experience as an entrepreneur—fingers crossed—I think some pretty awesome things could happen,” Murphy said.

By Lucy Fasano ’21, Resident Storyteller at The Hurt Hub

ermoreauYou’re never too young to found a business (or two).
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Andrew Ashur, Mike Murphy, and Bill May were wrong, and that’s what made them right.

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Like any career, being an entrepreneur has a bit of a learning curve. As new entrepreneurs  become accustomed to their new work and decide on a business plan, making a misstep or two isn’t out of the ordinary. When entrepreneurs face these missteps they have the opportunity to “pivot,” or flip their company in a different direction from what they had originally intended. Three entrepreneurs at The Hurt Hub@Davidson — Andrew Ashur, Mike Murphy and Bill May — shared their stories of when they had to pivot and what they learned.

Andrew Ashur, CEO and co-founder of Lucid Drones— a student-founded company which uses drones to clean buildings. Their pivot was a response to information they were receiving from the market.

“Without getting too far into the weeds of our specific business, we had spent half a year targeting one specific type of customer, only to realize that these individuals did not reap the benefits of what our product/service offers, and the benefits carried over to third-parties.” Ashur said.

This lead Ashur and the rest of the Lucid team to change who they were targeting their business to. Now, their company is working on continuing to grow their business and incorporating what they learned from their pivot into their new business plan.

One of our biggest learning lessons was the need to regularly schedule opportunities to reflect upon the trajectory of the company in order to garner a more profound understanding of whether or not the current course of action will be the most successful.

ProctorFree, a company that provides proctors for online education to prevent cheating, went through a similar process as Lucid. The CEO and co-founder of ProctorFree, Murphy, described its pivot and how — like Lucid — one of its original assumptions failed.

ProctorFree is a company that provides proctors for online education to prevent cheating. Murphy explained, originally, the business didn’t want to integrate with the learning management systems, or softwares which helps school manage their online education, the schools already had in place.

“It only takes the first 90 meetings of people asking ‘Do you integrate?’ to realize that there needs to be a change. The assumption that we made was wrong,” Murphy said.

It’s these early stages  companies should think about the different directions they can take their companies. Murphy says that pivoting is something that most early entrepreneurs should be thinking about,

“If you are pre-revenue, the stakes are lower, pivoting is fine. Those are the times you should be poking holes in your theories and assumptions.”

Bill May, founder of Sweet Relish (a company which helps other businesses book more appointments), also commented on the value of pivoting.

“Some people think pivot is a bad word, however, through the evolution of any company you have to pivot. The secret of pivoting is that you don’t want to do a need jerk pivot. You want to be strategic.”

Sweet Relish went through its pivot early in the establishment of the company. May found his company not only needed to provide the software to achieve its goals but also had to open a call center as clients were having trouble following up fast enough with these new needs.

Ashur, Murphy and May all used these “failed” assumptions to pull their companies in directions that promised more revenue and growth.

One of the ways to have the most productive or strategic pivot is to make sure you’re taking the right information away from the experience. For those who need to pivot, Murphy suggests looking back and asking , “How did we get to this point? Why did we get this wrong? Is it an ineffective management team? Am I lacking expertise?”

By asking the right questions entrepreneurs can be more effective in the future to avoid having  any pivots.

Pivoting can seem very discouraging. For those entrepreneurs thinking they might need to pivot, Ashur has advice.

“As a young entrepreneur, you will face a lot of challenges in the business world, as it is impossible to be in expert from the start in marketing, product development, raising capital, etc. However, with a growth mindset that is grounded in a voracious appetite for learning and a love for working through challenges, the obstacles can seem less daunting.”

By Lucy Fasano ’21, Resident Storyteller at The Hurt Hub.

ermoreauAndrew Ashur, Mike Murphy, and Bill May were wrong, and that’s what made them right.
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Blog Post 2

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Before we left for Winter Break, the Forbidden Renaissance team got together and decided that figuring out the legal nuts and bolts of entrepreneurship was crucial. To accomplish that, we met with Chris Clark for a free consultation on the legal process of establishing a business. Mr. Clark was very helpful, and we benefited greatly from his input. We then went ahead and filed for our business name with the State of North Carolina and started to dissect the tax ramifications of selling the shirts. We met with Ben Baker, the accounting professor on campus, and asked for his input on the tax process. As we did this, we also continued to refine our website and t-shirt design. Before we left, we put it in our order for the shirts and planned for what we would accomplish over break.

We continued to communicate over the direction of the website including design, format, and content. The website is a critical part of our business plan, and we have invested a lot of time in its success. We also received the shirts, and we set up the online purchase option. We deliberated on price points and came to a consensus using our agreed upon method of making decisions. Additionally, we continued to engage with social media to promote our message and brand.

After reconvening and going over the next phase of our business, we finished setting up our joint bank account through Azlo and received our employee identification number. We went into Charlotte to take pictures and show off our exciting new merchandise to post on our website. We also posted those pictures to social media to continue spreading the word about Forbidden Renaissance. Lastly, a very important part of our agenda, we assigned specialized roles to each member of our business to tackle different problems. We feel we reached a point where specialization would greatly benefit us. We are hoping and trying our best to spread our message of acceptance and tolerance.

Wear what you believe in!

ermoreauBlog Post 2
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The Value of Mentors in Entrepreneurship — Lucid Drone Tech

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Over the past year, Lucid Drone Tech, a student-founded company which uses drone technology to clean commercial skyscrapers, has gained significant attention. Adrian Mayans ‘19, Andrew Ashur ‘18, and David Danielson ‘19 started the company on a futon in one of their dorm rooms.

Danielson originally came up with the idea in response to the precarious current methods of window washing skyscrapers. The company’s goal is to use drone technology to improve industry safety and “relocate those cleaning workers who used to be suspended up in the air to back on the ground.” To achieve this, Lucid has developed drone technology never before designed to clean dirt, mold, and other stains off a variety of building types.

Lucid Drone Tech is currently raising their initial round of funding and building a company portfolio. But how did this idea, drawn up in a dorm room, become a reality? Lucid says they owe it all to their mentors.

In the spring of 2018, Lucid won the 2018 Davidson Venture Fund—a Davidson-run pitch competition that funds aspiring entrepreneurs, open to current Davidson College students and recent alumni,  and provides them with valuable mentors to help them develop their ideas. While Lucid was beyond grateful for the financial investment they received from the college after winning  from the Davidson Venture Fund, they could not stress enough how important the mentors gained from the competition were to their success. “That was honestly the biggest win for us in the competition,” Danielson explains, “We absolutely would not be in the position we are in without them.”

Three of Lucid’s mentors from the Venture Fund now sit on the Lucid Drone Tech Board of Advisors:

Louis ForemanCEO of Enventys Partners

Jim PattersonVP/ GM, Flash Wireless at ACN

Mike MarvinManaging Director at MDM Advisors

Craig Yoder, an independent consultant and former tech executive at Landauer, Inc., was the fourth member of Lucid’s mentor team during last year’s Davidson Venture Fund pitch-competition.

Through dinners at Brickhouse Tavern and late-night phone calls, Lucid and their mentors built a solid relationship that developed the company into what it is today. Lucid’s mentors laid out tasks during the team’s first steps in forming a company, motivated them to improve their ideas, and actively helped make decisions for the betterment of the company. Mayans says, “When we showed up to the Venture Fund, all we had was an idea. They helped us put our idea into a business.”

Lucid’s mentors have also connected the Lucid team to opportunities that are helping  build the company’s portfolio.team By cleaning different buildings and treating different stains, Lucid can show what their drones are made of. Ashur explains that Lucid hopes, “to further prove the efficacy of what our drone system is capable of doing.”

Through the step-by-step guidance of their mentors and their own hard work, Lucid Drone Tech has gained the confidence in their product and expertise in their field to continue pushing forward. Ashur puts it best: “We know this is the future of cleaning, now we just need to get out there.”

Watch our vlog on Lucid Drone Tech, produced by Resident Vlogger @ The Hurt Hub, Jessie Epstein.

By Lucy Fasano ’21, Resident Storyteller at The Hurt Hub.

Julie GoffThe Value of Mentors in Entrepreneurship — Lucid Drone Tech
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