brandon henry

Zach Morrison ’24 mints an NFT collection

It takes a dreamer to go out on his own and embrace a wave of innovation. It takes beating the naysayers and those who embrace the traditional model. It takes an entrepreneur who is willing to embrace uncharted territory.  Zach Morrison ’24 is majoring in finance and real estate at Whitman, yet there is more at the surface. Inspired by the momentum of the blockchain and crypto space, Zach sees opportunity in the horizon. Financial technology like blockchain lies at the intersection of the new wave of tech influencing finance. Gen Zers like Zach are at the forefront of new frontiers such as the Metaverse and NFTs.

Zach is embracing this through his latest project, Hazy Honey Badgerz.  Through his work with his newly minted NFT collection, it is clear he has ambition but is also a visionary that is intellectually curious.

Zach believes moving forward is a mindset because a successful person is only a loser who keeps trying with the same enthusiasm despite setbacks. Zach values building networks and utilizing resources. Progressing every day is important, a lesson he learned in football. Being able to give back is important to him because sharing a wealth of knowledge with other people can create impact.

Zach sees himself as an entrepreneur because of his mindset, just being able to explore opportunities from a different angle. The spark of interest in blockchain emerged from a growing conversation around privatization and ownership of data.  Zach said, “The freedom of transferring data and information without the approval of the middleman is the core value proposition of blockchain.”

His speculations are a product of “Increase in the awareness of being independent of not only your own money but information” felt among Gen Zers like himself. In an example, he explains “We used to have stockbrokers to buy and sell shares of an asset, now we have it at our fingertips.”

The path of entrepreneurship can be lonely at times however Zach finds life in the Blackstone LaunchPad because it is a community of big ideas.  The collaborative community healthily reinforces the work ethic he learned as an adolescent. From an early age he would go to people in the neighborhood and politely ask to mow lawns to earn cash which influenced him to see money as a tool.

No one can tackle world problems alone. Diversify groups and teams to apply the core foundation of entrepreneurship. Team members that are equally driven but think from different perspectives can create a full circle though process Mentors have shown him there is more in the world for the taking if you apply yourself. Think of a problem then come up with solutions.  “If you fall seven times, stand up eight,” is a saying in the LaunchPad.

Zach over the past semester has been working on a Solana NFT collection titled Hazy Honey Badgerz. Hazy Honey Badgerz plans to expand its members mainly through social media channels such as Discord and Twitter. Staying true to the company’s mission is integral to its success because of its reliance on brand identity. Hazy Honey Badgerz is opening a door that will bring more people into it the Solana blockchain and NFT space. The platform is communal based because the community can vote to choose guest speakers and events to host. At the core of the NFT backed startup is an invitation to an exclusive community that exposes you to more opportunities. 

For the summer of 2023, Zach wants to explore his options at banks such as Citibank, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, or Morgan Stanley because of the new crypto and alternative digital asset divisions being built at these institutions. Every day in the news, crypto and the new wave of technology gets dissected, and more attention is drawn to it. Zach understands the framing of a new financial future. Going forward, Zach lives by his mantra to chip away at goals one day at a time to lay the foundation for steady gradual progression.

Story by Blackstone Launchstar Brandon Henry ’24; photo supplied

Aidan Turner ’24, architect and entrepreneur, building Grater Things

Aidan Turner ’24, a student majoring in architecture, is a creative who blends the elements of architecture with the design of his clothing line, Grater Things.  Aidan grew up in Cumberland, Rhode Island and was influenced heavily by his mother who is an art teacher.  His environment pushed him to experimentation, and he entered college, he knew he wanted to bring a concept to market. 

Grater Things, Aidan’s clothing company, targets the Gen Z and millennial generations. His venture is a medium for him to bring a creative mind with dimensions of architecture to fashion.

“Grater Things is a trendy and simplistic brand that focuses on sweats,” says Turner.  “The inspiration for our name is a spinoff of the phrase ‘Greater Things’ and is intended to be a funny, less serious nameplate.”  Grate Things currently offers crew neck sweatshirts and hoodies but are looking to expand to sweatpants, t-shirts, socks, and more.  It also offers custom, trendy wall print tiles in vibrant color options.  The focus is on the playful nature of the brand, with a logo that is a cartoon cheese grater.

Aidan’s plans for expansion include but are not limited to rebranding as well as more professional photoshoots. A critical piece of his success is pouring more money into advertisements and creating a real identity behind the brand. Partnering with artists will allow for increased exposure so that Grater Things can reach a greater audience.

“Grater Things is devoted to a life of persistence and positivity and reaching further than you ever thought you could.  Putting positive vibes into the universe brings them back around to you, it’s as simple as that.”

Adian has been working with LaunchPad Rubin Family Innovation Mentor Jackson Ensley, founder of Popcycle, a marketplace for student fashion brands, on developing Grater Things.  The brand will be featured in Popcycle pops this spring on campus.  The product line includes streetwear and lounge clothing.  Aidan is also helping Jackson design other pop-up retail events. 

When Aidan reflects on the late Virgil Abloh, he sees the refraction of what he could be someday, using his creativity to make a living. As a creator, he is motivated by strength and passion. Because his mind is eclectic, he draws on inspiration from a variety of sources which allows him to thread these ideas in space into a cohesive design.

Aidan says that learning architecture is like relearning the world through a new lens. Observing even the smallest details in design can serve as stimulation which sparks the energy to create.

As a creator, Aidan sees being gregarious, passionate, and hardworking as the keys to success. A blend of emotional intelligence followed by passion into a pursuit of one hundred percent effort is the frame of mind required to crush goals. Aidan possesses the qualities of a salesperson but the genius of an architect because he looks at the world through the lens of design. While financial success is its own reward, helping others is the end goal of Aidan’s career because he feels there is humility in giving back.

Along the way, Aidan has realized learning from other people’s mistakes is important to understand the success and failure of brands. For example, he remarked that by making something simpler that people would buy works with certain styles and materials.

Not every mentor is someone you must know personally. Vigil Abloh was an architect who became a designer because he mastered his craft and monetized it. Despite the barriers in the fashion world, he kept going and took his designs to new heights so that the fashion world could do nothing else but respect him. Aidan sees life in what Virgil did for the world. He blended people from different worlds and joined their experiences to create inventive products. Like Aidan, many in our generation see the beauty in blending the paints of ideas to make something the world has never seen before.

Creative collaborative communities are important because the more ideas and opinions you have, the better the synthesis of an idea. Diverse minds create products that are closer to the customer’s ideal because of the variety of hands the product has touched.

Aidan believes that all aspiring entrepreneurs must have perseverance and grit which are vital to success because demanding times are inevitable. He vividly remembers the moments he spent thousands of dollars on products and eventually sold them despite the changing demand for fashion. Patience is a virtue. Stay inspired and always keep your eyes open.

Aidan defined an innovator as “Someone with a goal in mind, someone who is constantly thinking. Innovation as an artist is tough because the first part is following trends but also predicting trends.”

Story by Blackstone Launchstar Brandon Henry 24; photo supplied

Colleen O’Brien ’22 is growing her talent management agency VisionVerseSoundz

headshot of a student in a black sweatshirt

Colleen O’Brien ’22, a Newhouse student in the Bandier program, is the CEO of VisionVerse Soundz (VVS), a venture that is putting a new emphasis on ownership within the music industry. VVS is an artist management company focused on helping hip-hop and r&b artists become profitable by helping the artists develop and promote their art and their brand.

The target market is fans of both hip hop and r&b within the age range of high schoolers to 35-year-olds. To get both artists and these customers, Colleen sees social media, playlisting, blogs, and researching different opportunities such as TikTok as her path to market. When she started managing the artists, her artists told her she should have something she can call her own, to show all the work that she is putting in behind the scenes. This sparked the idea to create VisionVerseSoundz.

Her plan for 2022 is to gain traction for each of her artists and start aggressively networking within the industry. Finding more people to work with to add to her team is essential for growth and getting more business.

Colleen values are generosity and transparency which she employs in conducting business with her artists. Colleen sees herself as a visionary because she sees potential in people and wants to set them up for growth. She describes her mental process as, “If I can see the ingredients, I can bake the cake,” which can be applied in a management sense too.

Growing up, her parents restricted her music taste such as rap.  From the outside perspective, rap can come off as demeaning to women and promoting violence which is what her parents associated with the genre. However, Colleen was captivated by it from her first listen because of the cleverness in lyrics, wordplay, and overall fun fast-paced vibe. As Colleen grew older and more independent, she gravitated towards rap more because of the diversity of the genre, overall lyricism, and rich history.

When launching her venture, she considered the problem of artists getting in a bad contract because labels and other entities become greedy instead of doing what is right. Many artists at the start of their career are not financially or legally literate so labels, managers, and other business executives sometimes can take advantage in a legal sense.

Colleen feels that technology is the trifecta of trends, assets, and challenges. Technology is constantly evolving which requires us to constantly keep up and understand new developments. Thus, it can bring forward new opportunities. Colleen and her team would not be able to make the sounds if the tech were not currently out.

When considering distribution, none of her artists would have music out on the platforms that promote growth if it weren’t for today’s modern technology. Consider Lil Uzi Vert who began as a sound cloud artist and now fills concerts and stadiums to see him perform for thirty minutes. The Internet is a great equalizer.

Colleen became an entrepreneur by solving issues to problems and then taking that mindset towards issues going forward. She became one through practice. Throughout her life, Colleen has found freedom in the autonomy of creating things on her terms.

Colleen’s Pillars of Wisdom are:

1. Consistency is important

2. Communication is important

3. Customer Discovery is vital before you reach out to anyone

When looking at other managers and the way they do business, Colleen believes understanding the advantage of each artist under management can allow for better deals. She gained feedback from artists, engineers, and producers about their problems and struggles along the way.

Colleen manages four rap and r&b artists each with their own unique sound and distinct lane. The first artist signed under VVS was Lav.Lew, a melodic rapper that wears his heart on his sleeve and reps his hometown proud, he is a storyteller and embraces the Florida sound, with a style like Lil Durk, Rod Wave, or Roddy Ricch.

The next artist VVS signed is Shan.X, an r&b singer from NY that has created her own unique sound by blending elements of hip hop with r&b, her sound resembles both Summer Walker and Rico Nasty styles.

Cay Slatt was the third artist to join the team, with a strong New York sound Cay attacks drill rap with his own approach focusing on versatility and work ethic, every song goes hard, his style resembles Pop Smokes and Kay Flocks.

The last artist to be signed is Noso1o, reigning from Baltimore, Noso1o is extremely versatile in styles, more recently embracing the Emo rap subgenre but he switches up to pick up the intensity on a few tracks, his style resembles Juice Wrld, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Lil Baby, and Lil TJay.

Collaborative communities are incubators, and progress is made through growth and experimenting with innovative ideas and new ways of doing things that require a supportive environment. For her to manage her label, Colleen keeps her eyes open, and she listens to people telling her what they want to do and tries to think of a way for them to do that thing while working with others. She emphasized trying to tackle problems with unique solutions. Colleen leaves readers with one quote: “Live life each day so that you won’t regret it tomorrow.”

Story by Brandon Henry, Blackstone LaunchPad; photo supplied

Samba Soumare ’24 on creative immersion and innovation

photo of a young man in a suit

Samba Soumare ’24, a Maxwell student majoring in international relations, has a superpower. It is the unique skill of being able to immerse himself in various cultures, whether it be a French or American linguistic context. Language is a tool to understand, a bridge between people. Traveling through Mali, Senegal, Greece, and India, while calling Brooklyn home, equipped him with the tools to understand the experiences of people in these regions on a more personal level. Being analytical and having cultural humility opened his eyes to the fact that we are dependent on each other which can lead to great human flourishing or disaster.  His linguistic, cultural, and analytical skills have allowed him to understand contemporary international affairs.

One interesting area of the international realm is the growing investment of China in foreign countries into foreign projects, more specifically infrastructure and land development. It is evident in Ethiopia, one of his home countries’ neighbors, that the Chinese government is expanding its influence into Africa. The international realm is growing ever complex and as a result is a dynamic landscape. This context is the reason he would like to be a diplomat at the United Nations. The growing connectedness of our world through the digital space and growth of children being able to speak multiple languages creates the context for globalism to grow.

As a diplomat, he wants to play a role at the government level.

Mentors help with constructive feedback and help building interpersonal skills. A trusting and honest mentorship relationship provides transparent feedback. It aims to stimulate growth by identifying weaknesses and advising them on ways to improve. Interactions with mentors serve as a medium to build communication such as active listening. Empathy and the greatest virtue which is patience. These skills have allowed me to collaborate more effectively. A creative collaborative community is a great way to meet other students considering emerging ideas and enterprises and gain a more informed perspective.

A new Zaccai Foundation Fellow at the LaunchPad, working with the Intelligence ++ program,  he was referred by a fellow LaunchPad student team member Brandon Henry. With a background and empathy for working with young adults with disabilities, he brings both skills and compassion to his new role as a peer mentor.

“My entrepreneurial strength aspect isn’t necessarily the ideas or project I have thought of, but instead my adaptive nature in dialogue,” says Soumare. “I wouldn’t consider myself an extrovert however I have the ability to find common ground with many people who might be completely different from me.”

Story by Brandon Henry ’24; photo supplied

Shameek Hargrave on bridging the gap between theory and application

headshot of a man in a suit

Shameek Hargrave hails from the great state of New Jersey where he is studying computer science and pursuing an engineering degree at Princeton University. He is a close friend and colleague with Brandon Henry ’24, an economics major at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University who is part of the LaunchPad’s student team.  Together, they are working to leverage their strategic, technical, and entrepreneurial skills for venture development.

Their goal is to create a software platform to enable college students to monetize services they could offer within the college ecosystem. They feel that the target market of college students is especially interesting because it offers an opportunity for a double-sided market. And between them, they hope to bring the idea to both Syracuse University and Princeton.

At his core, Shameek wants to build things that connect the gap between a textbook and an application. He is fascinated by the intersection of computing and consciousness, and finds reverse engineering, taking hardware apart, and reading intellectually rewarding. Outside of school, Shameek enjoys reading, basketball, and building things. Philosophy and political theory are also keen interests and he reflect that maybe in another life, he would have entered politics.

Shameek is not only ambitious and confident but also personable as well as open-minded because he has a wide range of experiences. Between boarding school and his hometown of East Orange, he has had a good mix of the melting pot of American culture.

He considers curiosity as his superpower because his passion for constant growth plays a role in how he conducts himself toward personal relationships and his studies.

Possessing an interdisciplinary mindset towards issues allows for a more rounded response to a problem. He sees entrepreneurship as a mindset being embodied by changing the world through innovation that has wide reach and capability. Building products that will augment the human experience are one of the reasons he wants to keep innovating in tech spaces. He finds artificial intelligence concerning computing power and the analysis of neurons in the brain especially interesting because it begins with understanding the human mind and incorporating other aspects of human experience.  

He feels that in our study of the brain and its function, we cannot create a feasible representation of neural pathways and how synapses connect; the gap in our understanding of ourselves makes it almost uncharted territory, and yet it defines our reality.

Another computing issue he finds interesting is the polynomial vs nonpolynomial problems which in computing is the idea that some problems can be solved in a period. Shameek considers novel solutions to nonpolynomial problems in a discernible amount of time as pivotal to advancement into technology.

Shameek was born into a culture of entrepreneurs, people to guide you in the path. Along the way, Shameek says the one thing that will always stay with him is having gratitude. Living in the moment and appreciating the infinitesimal ways of what could transpire within a moment is key. Life is fleeting, everything is temporary which requires you to let things go. Failure is a cog in the wheel, so the only step is to learn.

One of Shameek’s most meaningful experiences was building a nonprofit organization known as Escape Vape. To incentivize kids to stop vaping, an application would monitor usage levels and set goals to decrease vaping.

Along the way, he and his team are realizing it is about understanding the right questions to ask which bring the most value to a pursuit. Finding someone who can give their time holds a special place in his heart which is why mentors play a long-term role in a startup’s success or failure. Collaborative communities are important because they allow people to produce a new idea. Collaboration is a critical part of development. Better holistic and well-rounded perspective is the product of diverse thinkers which can result in accelerated growth.

Shameek’s formula for success includes:

  1. Identify a need
  2. Validate it
  3. Do the research and be willing to identify a target market
  4. Don’t manufacture a need from anything

From Shameek’s personal experience in building a team, he has learned that is key to find people who are good at things you are not.  Identifying shortcomings is crucial because having people fill in the gaps you are deficient in makes for a more well-rounded perspective across the board.

In terms of capability, identifying the skillset you need for a team number becomes more vital as you look into your network. More critical to developing a relationship with the people you are looking to add to your team

Shameek defines innovation as making an idea better through constantly refining and assess the solution