By Alatrik Banks
During the summer of 2016, I participated in the European Innovation Academy, a 3-week digital startup accelerator in Nice, France, primarily for college students. Participating in the program has left a stamp on my heart.
First, I’d like to extend condolences to the lives lost in the Bastille Day tragedy when more than 80 people were killed, including three participants from the program, when a man drove a truck through a crowd watching fireworks along Nice’s beach promenade.
On another note I must say that Nice is such a beautiful city. The EIA program was basically a digital technology accelerator with the goal of each student team having 1k customers before the finish. You had to work on an idea with a group of five students all with different backgrounds/roles such as business, marketing, UX/UI design, and comp sci.
I’d like to say that the program challenged me in many ways. I will start with the first day, a speed networking event amongst 400 participants. You pretty much had to pitch and mingle your idea to participants, with 200 people having ideas. We all know that entrepreneurs have a love for their ideas, just as a mother to her child. My idea was ETHIWEAR – a marketplace for affordable and sustainable clothing made by responsible brands. It’s a very sticky situation trying to enlighten someone why they should join you on your idea, not join someone else, and maybe them having to drop their very own idea. After the second day I almost was ready to take the backseat and join someone else on their idea. I honestly didn’t think that I was going to form a team.
On the way home, at the end of the second day, I was spilling out my frustration to Josh Miller, another participant from Montclair State. During our discussion I discovered a “hack,” basically everyone was spending time going after computer programmers, they were in high demand. The beauty of my idea was that I didn’t really need a programmer. Finally, it wasn’t until the last hour on the third day of networking that I formed my team. I must say that it was a great accomplishment and relief. I could finally breathe again.
Even though I am not necessarily a “programmer,” for my idea, ETHIWEAR, I took on a developer role because I knew I could make it work. By needing an online marketplace for my idea, it was easy to create. Essentially anyone can create a website nowadays with online tools such as Wix and Squarespace, it can easily be done with no coding knowledge. I was not creating an app like a lot of the other teams. I also think that an app developer isn’t needed in the very first stages of an “application” idea. I believe that prototyping, user testing and feedback should be done well before the app starts to be programmed but more on that another time.
My idea ETHIWEAR was allowing your ordinary consumer to afford environmentally and ethically sourced clothing from responsible brands. We were providing a marketplace that allowed our customer to purchase clothing with various finance options such as leasing to own (MUD Jeans) or renting (Rent the Runway model). The inspiration behind the idea was essentially to disrupt fast fashion—or clothing priced so low it can be considered disposable—which is the second most polluting industry on the planet with oil being first. It was basically a revolution of its own. The veil behind fast fashion is often silent and unspoken. Little do people know it is a very ugly business with so many toxins and waste to the environment, all made with sweatshop labor from workers getting paid unlivable wages in emerging countries.
Another aspect of the program I enjoyed was the diversity, with participants from all over the globe from different cultures, backgrounds and races, but surprisingly not many French. In the emerging global economy being able to interact and understand other backgrounds is a necessary skill. Being able to interact and work with others from diverse backgrounds challenges you and makes you stronger as a person. Even though we all share planet earth, we all live in different “worlds” that we navigate and experience on the daily basis. I thought that the diversity was a pivotal part of the program.
I can ramble on and on but this experience of studying in Nice, France has changed me in many ways that I cannot explain. I would like to thank the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship and the Feliciano School of Business for helping make this trip possible.
Altarik Banks is a junior Economics major who has obtained the Feliciano Center’s Certificate of Entrepreneurship and is now pursuing the Center’s 3D Printing Certificate in Digitally Mediated Innovation Design.