Durham SOUP seeks to empower local entrepreneurs, awards microgrant for artwork subscription box project

Durham SOUP hosted its biannual microgrant event at the American Underground on March 30, awarding one Durham resident $1,800 for her proposed project. 

An organization that allows residents to fund microgrants to other residents for projects benefiting the Durham community, Durham SOUP was inspired by the SOUP model created by InCUBATE, “a research group founded in Chicago focused on exploring new approaches to arts funding.” The model seeks to "allow residents to play a role in their community's development" by voting on which project they believe will be most beneficial to Durham. 

The event was hosted by Duke students Keena Gao, a junior, and Sasha Provost, a sophomore. But the model was brought to Durham after two other Duke students previously interned with Detroit non-profits and were inspired by Detroit SOUP’s success. Durham SOUP has hosted four events since April 2019, and the organization’s next event will be held in November, according to Provost. 

The March event featured four pre-selected pitches, including three from Durham community members and one Duke School of Medicine student. 

“Our mission is to empower entrepreneurs in the Durham area and provide them with microgrants to help them structure their business and form connections in the community,” Gao said at the start of the event.

After a dinner, the four candidates presented their pitches, and attendees were invited to speak to both others and the pitchers about the projects before voting. Around 50 attendees from across the Durham-Raleigh area voted for the winning project and were encouraged to donate $10. The money raised during the event went towards the winning pitch along with the microgrant. 

Provost told The Chronicle that she works with advisors to review applications and ensure the people selected have diversity in both identity and industry. 

“We can accept projects at any stage, but we want to make sure they’re all at the same time,” Provost said. “We want to ensure they’re all on even footing when we pick them, so they all have an equal shot.”

Ami Patel’s “Gallery Box” organization was the final winning project and awarded $1,800. 

Patel, an aspiring artist active in the Durham arts scene, pitched Gallery Box as a solution to the “two-sided problem” of art curators seeking unique art and local artists finding markets to purchase their art. The solution commissioned five local artists to fill 50 artwork subscription boxes delivered to art curators in the area. Patel would use her existing relations with the Durham arts community to engage and connect with a diverse range of local artists. 

“There is really nothing quite like the Gallery Box on the market,” Patel said. 

Patel said she intends to use the microgrant to commission artists “so it’s going right back into the local community.”

Belden Long, a doctoral student of occupational therapy at the Duke School of Medicine, presented her program “justb” which promotes physical activity for neurodivergent children through online videos. As a certified yoga instructor, Long previously served as a yoga instructor for neurodivergent students. 

“I believe that every person deserves the opportunity to feel competent, confident and capable in their bodies,” Long said. 

Long said she intended to use the grant money to conduct a research project evaluating and improving justb for future use in elementary schools.

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Tyler Fisher, founder of “StayFast,” is committed to his personal sense of empowerment, due to his childhood in poverty and abruptly-ended high school football career following an injury. He has written three books, with his most recent, “StayFast: The Ambitious Affirmations,” being the focus of the brand. 

“I want to share with you an unparalleled opportunity to invest in our greatest asset within our communities. I believe our greatest asset within our community is the youth,” Fisher said. 

Fisher intended to use the grant to create a summer camp for students centered around his book and featuring empowering speakers.

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Nate Branscomb and his son pitched their business “B.Combs,” a customer relationship management software platform aimed at helping nonprofits serving youth. The platform automates nonprofits’ computational and logistical processes to reduce time needed to collect and analyze data. 

“The challenge is that many nonprofits are fragmented, leaving individual chapters to fend for themselves, strapped for resources and forced to use ineffective methods for operating organizations,” Branscomb said.

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Editor’s Note: Sasha Provost is a member of The Chronicle’s staff as a Recess writer. 

Jothi Gupta profile
Jothi Gupta | University News Editor

Jothi Gupta is a Trinity sophomore and a university news editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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