Students Champion Diversity, Inclusion, and Community in Entrepreneurship
- Feb 1, 2016
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“I believe in three things,” said Julian Turley, a senior studying political science and entrepreneurship, “God, community, and entrepreneurship. When you have a loving community, you can go about solving some of the world’s biggest problems, together.”
Both Julian and Robert Greenfield, an Industrial operations engineering student have transformed a passion for inclusion, community and entrepreneurship into a powerful educational experience at the University of Michigan — one that recently took them all the way to the White House.
Julian and Robert are part of Nomsy, a community and food discovery platform specifically designed for people who have restrictive diets or food allergies. Founded by Robert and engineering classmate Evan Leung, they hope Nomsy will make a lasting and beneficial impact in the lives of others.
THEIR ENTREPRENEURIAL JOURNEY
Julian and Robert met when they joined the Black Student Union and took part in the powerful dialogue and activity sparked by the #BBUM movement, which brought to attention the experiences that the black student populace were having here at the university—and showed a number of ways the university and student perception needed to change.
“Coming into college, particularly here, I thought it was going to be a lot more diverse because of the size,” said Robert. “But it really wasn’t. That was really the first hard thing I encountered here.”
Because Julian and Robert worked closely within the Black Student Union, and they formed a friendship that would ultimately lead to the creation of Nomsy.
“Around the time we started Nomsy, my grandmother had recently passed from diabetes, and my friend Evan, who I’d known all throughout college, had a cousin who had diabetes as well,” said Robert. “So we decided to create a general health app that would make it a lot easier for people to track their health without having to put a lot of effort into it.”
In the start of 2015, the Nomsy team, Robert Greenfield, Evan Leung, and Julian Turley, began getting into customer discovery and product development, which involved a lot of research.
“Customer discovery is really where you see what works and what doesn’t work,” said Robert, “and that’s when we evolved into ‘Nomsy’, which is aimed at people who really needed a health solution on an everyday basis–people with food allergies and dietary restrictions.”
The process of creating Nomsy was difficult, according to Robert, as there aren’t many minority-led startups at the university. “Because of that dynamic, we started to notice that, particularly as a young entrepreneur, you notice how fragile you can be entering this environment,” said Robert. “It can be brutal, depending on the mentor you have. It sometimes didn’t really allow people to grow and have what to everyone else would be an okay idea, and allow them to mature and make it a great idea. But, thankfully, Nomsy made it through all those obstacles, and now we’re doing what we’re doing.”
After participating in programs at the university like The Startup through the Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Engineering, optiMize through the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, and Tech Arb, the team took part in an accelerator during the summer of 2015 in Petoskey, Michigan, which Robert described as, “True America.” Throughout these programs, the Nomsy team learned what worked, what didn’t work, what to avoid, and how to create a viable start-up as quickly as possible.
“The job of an entrepreneur is to solve a problem,” says Julian. “And that’s why a lot of companies exist. You go through a scientific method to solve a problem.”
TAKING THEIR DREAM TO THE WHITE HOUSE
That need to solve problems is what led the two students to Washington D.C. to represent Nomsy and take part in the I Have a Dream Summit, organized by Student Dream, BLOC, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Task Force. The Summit brought together an elite group of some of the brightest and most innovative individuals from the black community on January 15, the birth date of Martin Luther King Jr. to discuss and create solutions and plans to inspire and propel kids and young adults toward entrepreneurship. Learn more about how they got there in Robert’s blog and Julian’s blog.
“I felt a sense of power flying into D.C.,” said Julian. “There was such diversity of entrepreneurial talent at the Summit, too. I just thought, ‘the fact that we’re networking here is perfect. The fact that we’re here, at the White House, and we’re talking about a platform that would probably be used by the Obama family—one of the daughters has food allergies—it’s just perfect that Nomsy is here.’”
“The Summit was all about networking and finding resources you otherwise wouldn’t have,” said Robert. “There were a lot of people that any college student and entrepreneur would aspire to be, and that was really powerful. It was such an actionable networking event. It was all about how we can take these connections we make here and use them to help each other in the future.”
“The discussions were great,” said Julian. “One of the points that David Weild IV, the former Vice Chairman of NASDAQ had was that there should be policies in place in which there should be tax incentives for investors to invest into areas that are predominantly led by underrepresented minorities, to encourage those investors to actually look at minority operated companies—I really liked this concept.”
Other discussions at the Summit included how best to build a stronger community, network, expand out, and attain capital.
The University of Michigan is poised to support engaged learning opportunities for students for students like this conference with units like Innovate Blue, Ann Arbor SPARK, The Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Engineering, the Office of the Provost, and the Industrial Operations Engineering Department all providing support for Julian and Robert for Julian and Robert. The two were presented with the opportunity to attend the Summit when Julian found out about it from Amina Yamusah, the founder and CEO of BLOC, one of the partners of the Summit. Julian met Yamusah at the Black Solidarity Conference, which took place at Yale in 2015. The two stayed in contact, and Julian became a regional coordinator for BLOC. When Yamusah told Julian about the conference, he immediately asked to be a part of it. As he would be going to represent both BLOC and Nomsy, it was crucial that Robert attend the event as well.
When asked what events like the I Have a Dream Summit mean for the future of entrepreneurship, Robert answered, “I think it means inclusion. One thing they’re focusing on is creating a fund to help minority-led startups. There are a lot of amazing ideas out there, but there’s a huge cultural disconnect between being having ideas and being brought up in the entrepreneurial environment.”
If any two students deserve to participate in such an important and impactful summit, it is Julian Turley and Robert Greenfield. Through their tireless hard work, dedication to their product, and their passionate desire to help others, along with not being afraid to ask for help themselves, they have created a platform that aims to improve the lives of countless people. That’s ultimately what these two inspiring entrepreneurs are dedicated to–helping others by making their lives a little easier. Whether it be through the Black Student Union, through Nomsy, or through their passion for entrepreneurship and community, Julian Turley and Robert Greenfield are going to continue to create change and solve problems.
“I think I’m always going to be an entrepreneur,” said Robert. “And my advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is that when you come up with an idea, be passionate about it. It should affect you enough so that it’s always on your mind. Gaining success will come a lot easier if you’re passionate. That’s really big when you’re being introduced to people who don’t know you yet—because they’re investing you, not your company, at the beginning stage.”
“For me, what I would really like to do is offer the opportunity to be a person that helps others to solve problems,” said Julian. “And by that, build companies that solve problems. And provide greater access to capital. That’s a huge problem within itself, especially in the minority community.”
Julian and Robert’s journey shows, if anything, that hard work, dedication, and community can go a long way in entrepreneurship. They’ve faced challenges head on, but with help from U-M programs, and their own grit, they’ve been able to overcome those challenges in order to create a viable, influential business. And Julian, Robert, and their team didn’t stop there. They are paying it forward by mentoring other entrepreneurial students through programs like optiMize. If one thing is for certain, it’s that with entrepreneurs like Julian Turley and Robert Greenfield, the future of entrepreneurship is looking bright.
Written by Hannah Gordon, Innovate Blue Student Associate. Coolhouse Labs photo courtesy of Coolhouse Labs/Blake Owens.