Alumna Leverages Opportunities to Expand Business, Gain Knowledge in Graduate EEE Program

As a young alumna, Kelsey Davis ’19 (NEW), ’20 M.S. is taking on Los Angeles with her startup and 10 team members. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Davis saw an opportunity at Syracuse University to explore her creativity and found the Martin J. Whitman School of Management to be the perfect entrepreneurial community in which to learn about business and to grow her own.

According to Davis, the reason why she decided to continue her graduate education at Syracuse University was “to gain hands-on, low-level, tangible information on growing her own company and to have access to so many resources.”

After starting at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications as an undergraduate, she quickly became occupied with her other passions outside of the classroom: content production and her brand, CLLCTVE, a digital platform connecting college creatives with brands targeting Gen-Z.

With her time divided between being a student and an entrepreneur, Davis struggled to continue her undergraduate degree.

“I was so busy that I just started failing,” says Davis. “That was a moment for me when I realized I can turn this pain into power and create an entrepreneurial moment out of it.”

After experiences interning and working in advertising and production at companies such as UWG and Condé Nast, Davis realized she was eager for a bigger challenge. Entrepreneurship — where she could find solutions to different problems through creation and business — was the challenge she was seeking. 

I was so busy that I just started failing. That was a moment for me when I realized I can turn this pain into power and create an entrepreneurial moment out of it.” 

By 2017, CLLCTVE was just an idea, but she was determined to make it something bigger. Davis spent time researching the market and finding a space for her brand through working with other companies. Her time in the undergraduate program, with faculty and mentors, made her realize she shared the same difficulty as thousands of other creatives to launch and grow their business ventures in linear-modeled systems.

Davis was especially interested in developing a platform for under-privileged communities and untapped markets to collaborate. Minority entrepreneurs are less likely to receive business loans, inherit family-owned businesses and access the right markets to sell products, according to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Continuing her education in the M.S. in Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises program at the Whitman School gave Davis the resources and opportunities to fully focus on developing CLLCTVE during the product development stage and learn more about startups from the many professionals with the same experience on campus. She focused on the company vision of empowering the next generation of creatives by bridging the gap between creatives and brands with a platform for college students to develop their portfolios, showcase their skills and increase their visibility, while providing brands exclusive access to local Gen Z consumers and Gen Z content creators.

“When Whitman is looking at people for their program, they want individuals who are doing the work. People who are in the field, creating products. Even though I didn’t have the strongest GPA, I brought so much more to the table. I’m very glad that Whitman identified that in me,” shares Davis.

It was returning to Syracuse that also gave Davis the opportunity to recruit a strong team, including her business partner and the chief operating officer of CLLCTVE, Brendan O’Keeffe ’20. 

O’Keeffe met Davis on campus when she spoke at an entrepreneurship club meeting in November 2018. Interested in her entrepreneurial venture as a college student, O’Keeffe was eager to hear more from Davis and eventually began working as an intern for CLLCTVE. 

Since CLLCTVE launched in 2018, it has grown exponentially. In fall 2019, CLLCTVE won the $25,000 grand prize at the fifth annual Orange Tank business pitch competition. Winning the competition and earning money for the business gave Davis a huge boost to grow CLLCTVE even more. 

A month later, CLLCTVE won $10,000 at Blackstone LaunchPad Techstars PROPEL, a global competition held in New York City. In January 2020, CLLCTVE was also selected for the spring 2020 cohort of LaunchPad Lift, a program designed to help college student business ventures through a grant, mentorship and networking opportunities.

Davis and CLLCTVE moved to Los Angeles this summer with the 2020 Techstars LA Accelerator, a huge step forward for the company in expanding its market. As the company continues to grow, Davis is still eager to learn more about how she can make an impact and live out CLLCTVE’s vision professionally and personally. 

“I’m the first African American master’s student in entrepreneurship at Whitman,” says Davis. “Finding that out was cool, but why am I the first? That’s what my research and mission is about. How can we create spaces for those untapped markets and for people that are just like me?”

Karley Warden