Launching a startup is all about growth – personal and professional. Startup founder Dezbee McDaniel saw how getting involved in the Shuford Program for Entrepreneurship and the business school’s Entrepreneurship Center helped him grow as a student and young entrepreneur – while also helping him continue to build his business today.
“Both entrepreneurship programs work in tandem as a powerful platform. Together, they have elevated me in many ways. Without them, I would not be at this point,” says McDaniel, a 2017 UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus who earned an entrepreneurship minor while at Carolina. “The beautiful thing about being in the programs is that people are always willing to help. And once you graduate, it doesn’t mean the help stops. The community is always there as long as you’re willing to tap into it and make that effort.”
McDaniel joined Venture for America, a fellowship program that places recent graduates at startups in cities with emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems. Participating in Venture for America exposed him to additional opportunities, making him realize he wanted to start Everywhere Ad, a rideshare advertising platform for small businesses.
One of the first resources he used to propel his startup was Launch Chapel Hill, an international award-winning startup accelerator in downtown Chapel Hill. The accelerator is supported by Innovate Carolina and operated by the business school as part of a partnership between the University, Town of Chapel Hill and Orange County. McDaniel knew of Launch from his time as an undergraduate student, and knew he’d come back to it when he wanted to start a business.
“When we came to Launch, we didn’t have a fully developed product. Launch helped us gain access to valuable resources – developers who could help us with our MVP (minimum viable product). We were able to do a test campaign with the MVP while in the program, which enabled us to run that campaign more efficiently and effectively.”
Adds McDaniel, “With Launch, it was game changing,” he adds. “We are young, first-time entrepreneurs, and the guidance we receive really helps. Vickie Gibbs and others have had experiences in what we are attempting to do. They have that foresight to help identify challenges ahead.”
While still a student, he was able to earn a Dreamers-Who-Do award from Innovate Carolina, which allowed him to travel to Europe and focus on social innovation abroad. “It was an eye-opening experience for me because I had never studied innovation outside of the United States,” says McDaniel. “Learning how other countries approach innovation was something I appreciated because I never would have had that opportunity if I hadn’t earned the scholarship. Dreamers-Who-Do was the most life changing experience that I’ve had to date. It was the first opportunity that made me believe I could be an entrepreneur.”
Earning an entrepreneurship minor gave McDaniel the practical skills to build on his aspirations. “I enjoyed the structure of the courses. We would talk about concepts in class and then have a practical application outside of class, which was completely different from other classes I’d taken,” says McDaniel. “We’d learn about interviews, and then we had to go out and do interviews, acting on what we had learned.”
Follow parts two through four of our “Entrepreneurship education for all” series published each week this February.