5 Questions with Quinci King, Founder of Audacity Labs

May 05, 2021

Quinci King is a recent Duke University graduate from University Place, WA. At an early age, Quinci’s interests at the intersections of social policy and business propelled him to consistent involvement in gubernatorial campaigns, High School Dems, DECA, and nonprofit work while in Washington and Idaho. At Duke, Quinci strove to continue this work, engaging himself in both the Public Policy major and the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate. This curriculum laid a concrete foundation for Quinci’s various involvements as a student on campus, including: Duke Student Government, East Campus Council, Duke Students for Housing Reform, and the University Council of Civic Engagement. After interning for the U.S. Congress, Quinci dedicated a majority of his energy to creating sustainable service opportunities in which Duke students and alumni can better engage with the regional community via his startup Audacity Labs (AL). Quinci’s engagements have been recognized by Duke via the award of a Robertson Scholar Finalist, an Incubation Fund Grant of $25,000, the Rasheed Wiggins Award, as well as participation in both of Duke’s premier incubators: Melissa and Doug Entrepreneurs and Design to Impact. Expanding outside of Durham, AL has also been awarded with grants from state and national funders including NCIDEA and United Way. While continuing to manage Audacity Labs, Quinci works as an integrative management consultant at McKinsey & Company.

Audacity Labs is a participant in the Accelerate Equity program of the Techstars Foundation in 2021.

01. What is the elevator pitch for Audacity Labs?

Audacity Labs is a startup incubator and coworking space designed to empower youth with the tools and resources required for their success during and beyond their secondary schooling. Our curriculum and amenities empower ninth-12th grade students with the tools and resources to effectively develop a startup commercial or social enterprise. This program enables participants to zoom in on a specific issue or customer need, prototype ideas to address that need, develop a new product or service, and eventually lead to a sustained enterprise. In doing so, students develop 21st century skills associated with the start-up process — including problem-solving, creativity, communications, computational thinking, and collaboration — that prove valuable no matter what they do in life. To support them in this endeavor, members are empowered by a robust curriculum and supporting services, including workshops, university student coaches, professional mentors, access to technology, VR excursions, academic support, and counseling. Summarily, each day, members can attend one session that has been developed with a holistic approach to support a student’s life.

02. How does your organization create a more diverse and inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem? 

The Triangle region’s resilient quest for innovation — whether in healthcare, technology, or nonprofits — has fostered an environment wherein some audiences have excellent opportunities to develop modern skills in coding and entrepreneurial thinking, while other audiences remain excluded. Multiple reasons have been posited: a lack of access to hardware and software development curriculum, insufficient exposure to professional role models, and logistical and price barriers. As a result, an opportunity gap has continued to persist and even widen, particularly for resources which bring together students across racial and economic spectra to pursue collective ideas and ambitions.

Audacity Labs was designed from the outset, beginning in Spring 2019, to engage audiences traditionally underserved or underrepresented in entrepreneurship and STEM programs. Our first cohort of students were part of Durham Public School’s AVID program, a local initiative to ensure that first generation students of color receive the educational and social support they need to attend their dream college or university. This group of youth social entrepreneurs created three unique products aimed at giving back to their respective communities: a subscription box company with African American products, a mentorship program for ESL students, and a modern day pen pal platform for international peers to break down stereotypes.This diversity of participation continues to the current day: our most recent cohort of students represent at least five of the populations identified above. Over 90% of the high schoolers we serve are eligible for free or reduced lunch and only two of them identify as non-hispanic whites. Although our program has expanded to serve 14-18 year olds across the state of North Carolina, Audacity Labs was proudly started as a partnership with Hillside High School, the oldest historically black high school in the state of North Carolina. This salience of this relationship is further illustrated by way of Hillside High School now acting as our HQ for the district-wide, summer enrichment programs we have been contracted by DPS to launch in Summer 2021.

03. How will support from the Techstars Foundation further the mission of your organization?

Our operations are currently funded by a combination of earned and contributed income. The former includes fees collected from youth membership and contracted services. It will be further expanded in 2021 with the Audacity Labs Summer Camp. The latter includes grants from entities such as NC IDEA and Duke University's Incubation Fund, as well as private donations contributed ad-hoc and through an annual fundraising event. Furthermore, we take advantage of Duke University’s work study match program to pay our coaches, reducing our labor costs by 90%. Paying our coaches lowers barriers to participation and incentivizes long-term engagement with our undergraduate network, ultimately converting alumni into professional mentors and potential donors.

Further resources that have complemented our program are generous equipment donations. An example of this type of donation is the Lenovo Mirage Solo VR Headsets that Durham Public Schools and North Carolina State University supplied us to support our virtual Fall 2020 Cohort. Other in-kind donations have taken the form of reduced rental fees for our physical space. 

Leveraging the Techstars Foundation network, we intend to grow our professional mentor base, develop partnerships with aligned organizations, and raise funding to support our capacity-building efforts designed to increase the number of students served, as well as enhance the impact of each student we engage.

04. How did you come to do this work and why is it important to you personally?

As a kid, I discovered an unquenchable thirst for building things — oddly enough, businesses. From the age of six on, I was never found without a journal in which I scribbled my most recent inventions, discoveries, and business ideas. Whether by way of a henna tattoo shop at my middle school, a duct tape apparel company in junior high, or now a startup hub and co-working space for teens at Duke, the idea of developing or providing something that could make someone’s life even the slightest bit better has posited entrepreneurship as a core element in my life. Geographically, my childhood and adolescence was split between two very distinct places. Though I was born in Boise, Idaho, my family moved to a small town in Washington called University Place a few months after my second birthday. We then moved back to Boise when I was 13, and once more back to Washington for my senior year of high school. My last move to Duke for college stemmed from the desire to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the world, chasing a promise of exposure to bright, multinational students and their varying ideas and pursuits.

As a Duke student in Durham, I witnessed some of the most alarming class disparities first hand: low-income and minority friends seldom had the same high school experiences afforded to both myself and privileged peers. Also, the majority of students were coming from affluent regions out of state rather than public schools in Durham. During my sophomore year on Duke Student Government, I found how my interest in the intersection of entrepreneurship and social mobility could apply to Durham and Duke. Firstly, Duke has a plethora of resources at its disposal: financial and social capital, an entrepreneurial student body, and a strong and active alumni base. Durham prides itself on its rich-in-history and rapidly developing entrepreneurial community. Lastly, Durham Public Schools (DPS) serves over 10,000 public high school students, many of whom come from low-income and minority households. Oddly, the options available for these three domains to intersect were lackluster and fragmented, leading the community to doubt the potential of any intersection. I theorized in my Social Innovation and Social Practicum courses that through the combination of these inputs — demand for afterschool programs, a developing city, thousands of at-risk teens, the resources of elite higher education institutions, and my personal testimony — we could at least slightly improve life outcomes for marginalized students in Durham.

Over the past two years, I have dedicated thousands of hours to develop Audacity Labs. In brief, Audacity Labs is a startup incubator and coworking space designed to democratize entrepreneurship to teens. Members, or high school students in the greater Triangle Region can visit our space at ReCity any time after school to learn, collaborate, receive mentorship and tutoring, and most importantly, have fun! We offer a curriculum that engages students with entrepreneurship, design, and coding, as well as a variety of workshops and excursions to develop them academically, professionally, and personally. We built this in collaboration with Duke Innovation and Entrepreneurship, American Underground, ReCity, Junior Achievement, CSbyUS, and several other incredibly helpful resources. Unlike peer programs with this caliber of value, we seek to make this program as accessible and equitable as possible. In addition to targeting Title I public schools in the area, we offer membership pricing on a sliding scale, creating affordability for students on free or reduced-lunch programs.

Summarily, my own identity and personal experiences have piqued my curiosity in exploring ways to improve the lives of marginalized children. My education in Durham-centered and service learning courses have provided me with knowledge and insights to the ways in which I can engage effectively in these spaces. Further, my experiences in politics and management consulting work to develop my skill set and network in order to access the necessary systems and individuals to propel these endeavors. The amalgamation of these elements allow me to develop and manage organizations that can improve the state of educational attainment and professional success for at-risk children. I foresee that this goal will consume my life, and in its execution, be rewarding for myself, and more importantly, for the communities I seek to serve.

05. Tell us the story of an entrepreneur you are proud to have supported.

Cameron Traylor is a current first-year at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studying Media and Journalism with a minor in entrepreneurship. Cameron channels his passion for nonprofit work into Cam’s Closet, a nonprofit founded in 2018 that provides basic necessities for underprivileged teenagers.

This past semester, Cameron was a youth entrepreneur in the Spring 2020 Cohort of Audacity Labs. He started Cam’s Closet to repurpose a storage unit at his high school by transforming it into a passionate service project designed to provide high schooler's with clothing and basic hygiene products. It served as an excellent foundation for Cameron’s successful venture project. For his venture project, Cameron worked with other cohort members to develop an ambassador program for Cam’s Closet which strove to provide high school students with the opportunity to learn the basics of running a nonprofit business as well as earn volunteer hours. 

Cameron noted the most rewarding part of his experience with Audacity Labs was forging strong connections with “such a phenomenal team.” He also cultivated an impactful relationship with his mentor who coached him to doing his best through professional guidance and suggestions. As Cameron furthers his studies and entrepreneurship, he continues to be motivated by the success of others and sets out to inspire change.

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