Pilot Program Fuels Rhodes Entrepreneurs
By Lynn Conlee
Nearly a year has passed since James Ekenstedt ′15 and Evan Katz ′15 began planning to launch the nation′s only student-run newspaper for and about the homeless. When the first issues of The Bridge rolled off the presses in March, the novelty of the project being student-run garnered news in local television and print media, as well as national press outlets.
This summer, The Bridge made history again in a way that could reap rewards for other young Rhodes entrepreneurs like Ekenstedt and Katz. Joined by managing editor Caroline Ponseti ′15 and marketing/advertising editor Shiven Samant ′16, , the two founders participated in a pilot "boot camp" financing program through the Memphis-based LaunchYourCity, founded by alum Eric Mathews ′02.
Mathews explains that the "tailored accelerator experience" the group underwent is based on Seed Hatchery, an arm of LaunchYourCity, whose website promises "money, mentors, and a Marine-style boot camp." "At LaunchYourCity, we relentlessly build founders and companies with methodical process and tons of optimism. We were happy to provide a specialized boot camp specifically for The Bridge," says Mathews.
Pairing Rhodes entrepreneurs with Memphis partners is an ongoing plan driven by the college′s External Programs division. "It′s the big idea that aligns with something that we′re seeking to do, which is to work something Memphis into the structure of entrepreneurship. So we had conversations with Eric and had been thinking—in advance of The Bridge coming out—about ways in which to get Rhodes students or young alumni involved in some of this work," says Warren A. "Bud" Richey, associate vice president for External Programs.
"After meeting The Bridge team, Bud and I felt it was time to put words to action," says Mathews. "The founders of The Bridge were ideal candidates for acceleration and the summer offered the best opportunity for dedicated and intense effort."
The Rhodes Kinney Program funded the first issue of The Bridge. "Rhodes College has been generous enough to provide us with some start-up capital, but we also solicit outside donations and grants. What′s more, our vendors pay us 25 cents for every paper they buy. That starts to add up in a surprising way," says Katz.
"I thought that our most realistic chance at long-term funding lay in a hybrid of obtaining grant money from foundations, private donations solicited through fundraising efforts, and support from Rhodes College," says Ekenstedt.
Instead, what the students learned in this summer′s boot camp could send the newspaper′s finances in a new direction. "I believe the boot camp will completely revamp our paper and the way it is run," Ekenstedt adds. "I think it will not turn the paper away from its original ideals; rather, it will build upon those ideals in a more efficient and effective manner than we could do on our own."