The proposal for the student project began with a line from rapper Jay Z: No lie, just know I chose my own fate. I drove by the fork in the road and went straight.
For faculty mentor Joshua Ehrig, the Renegade lyrics were a perfect setup for the project, which forced students out of their comfort zones to explore hip hop music, entrepreneurship and software ventures through Lehigh’s self-directed 12-week summer Mountaintop program.
The diverse team of students who embarked on the journey of discovery had a goal of developing a "minimal viable product" that would go live by the program’s end.
At the start, students quickly learned each other’s strengths and differences and how to perform together as a team, said Asante Asiedu ’17, a marketing major minoring in entrepreneurship and finance.
Their first few weeks were a crash course in entrepreneurship. They learned how to do business model canvases, conduct customer discovery and create an MVP—a rapidly built product with minimum features to test with customers. They learned about social media, guerrilla marketing and hip hop’s history and culture.
"Generally, in an entrepreneurship course, you’ll have CEOs or founders of startup companies," said Ehrig, a professor of practice in the department of management and a longtime hip hop fan. "In this case not only did we have that, but we had hip hop artists, graffiti artists, various facets of the hip hop community. And when you put those two together, it creates a special kind of dynamic, and it actually helps students develop a really unique skill set."
Team members were then set to develop their own ideas, seek customer feedback through focus groups, develop prototypes and test feasibility.
They came up with the idea of creating a website that would rank hip hop artists by metrics and assign them scores to highlight the most socially conscious artists and lead to discovery of their music. They called the effort "IMPACT." But they felt they wanted it to do more.
The team’s final product is a web application that selects an artist of the week and donates a portion of canned goods to that artist’s hometown based on number of listens through the site.
"Our mission is to donate food to those in need while fostering music discovery of socially conscious artists," said Thomas Verdi ’17, an English major with a concentration in creative writing minoring in entrepreneurship.
David Ro ’15, a computer science and business major, built the site, including an algorithm that selects featured artists based on socially conscious media presence, most recent donations and local impact.
Ehrig, who teaches entrepreneurship through the College of Business and Economics and the Baker Institute for entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, said the project opened the students’ eyes to a new world and was impactful "not only in modes of thinking but potential new ventures and market opportunities."
For more information on Mountaintop, go to lehigh.edu/mountaintop.
Story by Amy White