City Startup Labs is featured in Charlotte’s PRIDE Magazine
By Zacch Estrada-Petersen / Photos by Alvin Jacobs
After a decades-long career spent largely in advertising, marketing and sales on the national level, Henry Rock happened upon a calling that would change not only his life, but potentially hundreds of others, as well. With backing from some heavy hitters, such as Wells Fargo and the Rockefeller and Knight Foundations, Rock founded City Startup Labs with its collaborative partner, the Urban League – a 15-week boot camp in which young adult African-American men learn how to research, plan, launch and operate their own ventures.
PM: What led you to create City Startup Labs?
HR: The idea for City Startup Labs grew out of a response to N.Y. Mayor Bloomberg’s Young Men’s Initiative. I was living in New York at the time,; around 2011. Some years prior to that, I had considered doing a weekend workshop targeting young African-American men, including ex-offenders, former gang members and the like, and having them look at entrepreneurship as an opportunity.
When Bloomberg announced the initiative, I dusted off that idea I had and expanded upon it. They were focusing on education and post-criminal justice and employment, and I felt that self-employment and entrepreneurship were areas that should be part of the effort.
PM: What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced in getting City Startup Labs off the ground?
HR: Well, with some folks, there are real gaps in education. That doesn’t mean that people can’t overcome them, but it means they have to work that much harder. So that adds a layer of complexity and a challenge to what it is they’re trying to achieve as budding entrepreneurs.
PM: What is one of the hardest lessons you’ve had to learn?
HR: This work that I’m doing now is the most significant work that I’ve done in my life,; and it’s taken me a while to get to this place. I think that if you remain optimistic and persistent, take a real survey of what it is that you can bring in terms of value, and apply that, then good things show up.
PM: What are your long-term goals for your company?
HR: We’ve recently completed our pilot program and are in the midst of our next session. Going forward, the intention is to have an ongoing program with sessions twice a year, specifically focusing on this population of young, African-American men. And we’re also looking to expand this to other markets.
When 30-year-old N.J. native Kyle Taylor moved to Charlotte three years ago, he came with a newly minted Temple University marketing degree in tow. His new home eventually became the birthing ground for his mobile app company, The Redkomodo. Charlotte serves as the epicenter for the launch of his first product, Agreed — an e-signature app that allows users to verify documents and agreements not only with signatures, but with audio, video and pictures as well.
PM: What inspired you to create the Agreed app?
KT: It originally started as an adult messenger product. We had something where athletes and entertainers would sign and take a picture to verify mutual consent. This was around the time when a number of famous athletes were embroiled in sex-related scandals. In talking to attorneys, we found that it was too risky of a product to actually release. So with the technology we developed, we just expanded it and pivoted toward a different, more scalable market.
PM: What are your thoughts on the current state of the tech industry?
KT: The tech industry is lacking diversity. One of the reasons is because, I think, there aren’t a lot of influential people that we can associate with or recognize in the industry where we could say ‘Hey, he’s doing that; maybe I should look into that, too.’ There are also financial barriers to getting in this industry that I think are difficult to surpass.
PM: What advice would you give an aspiring entrepreneur?
KT: My advice would be to know the industry you’re in, seek experienced mentorship, build a reliable team, always believe in yourself and work smarter.
After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2006 with a master’s degree in information technology, Patrick Hill went to work in a leadership role at Bank of America, before setting off on his own six years later. In 2012, with the launch of his company, A Cultivated Mindset, the 31-year-old Jacksonville, N.C. native now runs a team of nine. In fact, when Redkomodo came to Hill with the idea for the Agreed app, it was Hill’s company that built it.
PM: What does your company, A Cultivated Mindset, do?
PH: We’re a ‘solutions’ firm that gives you a technological solution to whatever problem your company might have.
PM: What are some of your biggest challenges?
PH: My biggest challenge is getting people to realize that they have a problem, and allowing us to fix it. And a lot of times, you’ll find a client with a lot of money, and they think that throwing money at a problem will automatically solve it. They don’t always want to take the time out to find the right long-term solution.
PM: What should a person know before hiring a technology company?
PH: 1. Make sure the company has broad expertise with a wide array of technical systems and philosophies. 2. Be sure the firm can build a solution bridge between their technical skills and your business needs. That means knowing the ins and outs of your company beforehand, to understand your business problems. 3. A technology firm with people skills is important. Developers who are great when a product is working well are a dime a dozen,, You need them to be available when something is going wrong.