By Ann Robinson
Pictured: Samples and Robinson (far right) present for the Leaf team at ONEC1TY
A team of Summer Fellows from the Turner Family Center for Social Ventures (TFC) has won $15,000 at this year’s 36|86: Student Edition Pitch Competition, held at ONEC1TY in Nashville on June 2-6.
Nat Robinson (JD 18, MBA ’07), Connor Echols (MBA ’18), Alejandro Sabillon (MBA ’18), Tori Samples (MBA ’18), and Kevin Lubin (GPED ’18) are evaluating the viability of their startup concept, dubbed “Leaf.” A mobile application platform designed to facilitate cash to virtual currency conversion, Leaf acts as a virtual bank to unbanked, excluded populations, including refugees that struggle to establish economic identity due to migration.
The Leaf team participated in Vanderbilt’s Social Ventures Summit Pitch Competition this spring and won, qualifying them for the statewide event. As one of three finalists in the “Social Enterprise” category, the team had two-and-a-half minutes to present Leaf to a judges’ panel of entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and inventors.
Leaf acts as a virtual bank to unbanked, excluded populations, including refugees that struggle to establish economic identity due to migration.
“It was tough delivering our presentation in 2.5 mins,” said Robinson. “I think the judges liked the big social problem that Leaf is working to solve. One of the judges asked about offering insurance through our platform. I thought that was a great suggestion.”
“Even before they announced the winner,” Samples said, “multiple people came up to me to connect and offer advice. I believe there will be many intangible benefits of winning the student pitch portion of 36|86, not least of which are potential partnership opportunities.”
Summer Plans for Team Leaf
Led by Robinson, the team will spend the summer evaluating a strategic global market expansion. The prize money will be put toward market validation efforts and prototyping – Robinson and Echols will be traveling to San Francisco to meet with Leaf’s blockchain developer and advisors.
The TFC’s Summer Fellowship Program provides Vanderbilt graduate students across disciplines the opportunity to bring their expertise and education to action, through summer internships with partner organizations focused on social enterprise. Fellows are selected to engage in meaningful preparation for their fellowships and ongoing support through the summer, while receiving funding to cover their summer expenses. The program helps build capacity in organizations that may not have the resources to devote to interns and fellows, or, in the case of Leaf, provide students with an opportunity to engage in a start-up experience in social enterprise.
The University Venture Challenge and LaunchTN
The Social Ventures Summit Pitch Competition was one of five Vanderbilt-sponsored competitions selected to participate in LaunchTN’s 2016-2017 statewide University Venture Challenge (UVC). The UVC is a complement to the existing Specialists Program and a way for LaunchTN to engage more students within the established entrepreneurial community across Tennessee.
Founded in 2012, LaunchTN is a private-public partnership dedicated to cultivating and promoting Tennessee’s entrepreneurial economy.