By: Jack Dowell ’21
The 5th Annual Venture Fund Pitch Competition gave $12,500 to two Davidson associated startups on April 25th. This competition, organized by the Davidson Innovation & Entrepreneurship (I&E) Hurt Hub along with a prize paid for by the Nesbit family awarded the money to NALA, a money transferring service (similar to Venmo but for Tanzania) founded by Sam Castle ‘14 and Benjamin Fernandes, and Lucid LLC, a group founded by David Danielson ‘19, Andrew Ashur ‘19, and Adrian Mayans ‘19, which uses flying drones to wash buildings.
The Venture Pitch Competition is run by the Jay Hurt Hub, a new campus institution which will be opening this upcoming July. Currently, it is one of the most public facing representations the Hub has, but even that is a new phenomenon. The competition began five years ago, but was a private affair until two years ago. Julie Goff ‘05, the Chief Evangelist at the Hurt Hub, described the event as “one of many events that will live under the Hub’s umbrella.”
Goff credits this change to “a community of entrepreneurs locally called Launch LPN, they in particular wanted to be part of that pitch competition, they think it’s very cool to watch students pitch ideas.” The competition was open to the public, and it became a place for students to network with entrepreneurs. Goff explained that she “made it a lot more public this year and did a lot of social media stuff, trying to get people to come out and mentors to come cheer on their teams.”
The event kicked off with a speech by College President Carol Quillen, who spoke about the desire of the competition to find people with “diverse ideas, creative thinking, who’re willing to tackle big ideas” and who all “share a Davidson education.”
As Goff explained, these competitors went through a months-long process during which seventeen candidates submitted applications in March, and then five finalist teams were selected. These final teams were the aforementioned NALA and Lucid LLC, as well as The American Moderate, a website seeking to bring unbiased news co-founded by Kenny Xu ‘19 and Fairooz Adams; the Scriba Planner, a planning service that would use both custom made books and an app to make planners more customizable founded by Maya Packer ‘17; and Blueming, founded by Sarah Shah ‘17, an app designed to help new parents deal with postpartum depression and anxiety.
After these teams were chosen as finalists, they were all assigned a group of entrepreneurs as mentors to assist them in honing their pitches, which on Wednesday were presented to a panel of judges, as well as a crowd of local entrepreneurs and students in Wall’s atrium. The panel was made of three people, Jay Hurt ‘88, the namesake for the Hurt Hub and a successful entrepreneur in his own right, most famous for heading his family’s company, The Hurt Company, which manufactures lubricant for cars; Ed Van Deman ‘69, who the Van Deman Innovation Lab section of the building is named after; and Phiderika Foust ‘94, a partner at Silverpea Ventures and President of PowerMoves, a group which promotes entrepreneurs of color.
The winners of the competition were decided based on a rubric given to the judges, which according to Liz Stevens ‘16, Davidson’s I&E Fellow, focus on “opportunity, the solution, the business model, traction, the team, and the impact.” Stevens described the ultimate decision as being the result of a “holistic approach to looking at the different teams, and I think it came down to the judges seeing the work that the two winning teams had put into their pitch, and where they were in the process … each judge came from a different background and they also use that to make their decisions.”
The presence of two winners was also notable, as it meant that the $25,000 prize pool was split evenly between NALA and Lucid LLC. According to Stevens, the prize was also split between two competitors in 2016.
The Lucid LLC team members, following their win, commented that “the money is honestly second compared to the connections we were able to make that night … So this will hopefully lead to more funding that can really get us to where we need to go.” They also identified the mentors that were assigned to them both to help with the pitch itself and their product as a valuable asset; “I would argue that the mentors were worth more than the prize money.”