College sophomore Jahmir Hamilton has a revenue-producing business and 30 contractors.
Submitted by The PNC Financial Services Group
Like many innovation stories, Jahmir Hamilton’s began when he observed a need.
“I’ve been gaming on immersive role-playing platforms since I was about 10 years old,” Hamilton, now 19 and a sophomore at North Carolina Central University, said. “When a child is in that online world, it’s like they’re alone; they don’t have a parent or guardian to watch out for them. I had a couple of experiences with predators, people trying to get your personal information. By the time you click on something, it’s too late.”
Fortunately, Hamilton’s parents, Joseph and Tracy, had warned him of the dangers and he was able to keep himself safe. “A lot of my ideals come from my parents,” he said. “They taught me from a young age that it’s important to be the difference in the ways that you can.”
True to that mindset, Hamilton thought about the online safety issues and the potential for a responsible game development company to make a positive difference. So, he created IX Studio.
“IX Studio creates immersive role-playing games for people of all ages to enjoy,” Hamilton said. “What separates us from other game design companies is that we try to take accountability for the dangers our games could present through the Internet. We develop relationships with our gamers on [social platform] Discord to minimize the threats accessible to the kids. I feel it’s our responsibility to take safety seriously.”
On Feb. 3, Hamilton’s business idea placed first at the inaugural PNC North Carolina HBCU Initiative Pitch Competition, where the student-entrepreneur won a $2,500 cash prize for his pitch, IX Studio: Empowering others, through gaming. He competed against eight other teams, with entrants from Elizabeth City State University and Winston-Salem State University finishing second and third, respectively.
The competition, judged by a multi-disciplinary panel on attributes like innovation, feasibility and professionalism, builds on the Feb. 2022 launch of the PNC North Carolina HBCU Initiative, an effort designed to enrich the future of entrepreneurship and workforce opportunities for students at the five N.C. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) represented at the competition, which also included Fayetteville State University and Johnson C. Smith University.
A total of more than $2 million in grant funding from PNC Foundation is being awarded to these five institutions over a three-year period to support the development and delivery of entrepreneurship resources and programming.
A business owner at age 19
Hamilton learned of the pitch competition with just days to prepare. Collis Arrick, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Development at North Carolina Central, recommended him for the event after becoming an informal advisor to Hamilton, an IT major who needed some business advice.
“My company was already generating revenue, and someone was trying to buy it for $60K,” Hamilton said. “I have no business experience, and my dad and uncle gave me the advice to find someone in my business department who knows business.
“I met Mr. Arrick, who said he was going to have his son play one of my games that same night. The next day he called and told me about the pitch competition, saying, ‘You have four days. If you think you can do it, I want you to go.’ I immediately took the opportunity; win or lose, I’m here for the experience.”
Hamilton called the pitch competition a “very unique experience” that he never expected to win, especially when many other competitors had several months to prepare and had participated in pitch competitions at their respective institutions. “It was such a good environment, and I never saw such a group of creative ideas and bright minds,” he said. “The judges had great insights and offered everyone feedback.”
“The competition provided a forum for North Carolina’s future business leaders to share their unique approaches to entrepreneurship and the creation of innovative products, services and solutions – while demonstrating skills and learnings from entrepreneurship programming and resources made possible through the PNC North Carolina HBCU Initiative,” said Weston Andress, PNC regional president for Western Carolinas.
“Based on the student presentations we saw during the competition and the meaningful learnings and advancements taking place in these institutions’ classrooms and communities every day, it’s clear that the future is bright for innovation and entrepreneurship in North Carolina,” added Jim Hansen, PNC regional president for Eastern Carolinas.
True to his values
For Hamilton, growing as an entrepreneur pays off not just for him, but for a community of about 30 developers he has working with him from around the U.S. as contractors.
“Discord [a VoIP and instant messaging social platform] has a talent hub, and they reach out to me with their portfolios,” he said. “I try to help everybody increase their exposure, earn money and make sure they have a seat at the table. When I don’t know the answer, someone on the team knows the answer. It’s a great workspace where everybody is humble, collaborative and diverse.”
The value he places on diversity is one reason why attending an HBCU was important to Hamilton, a Charlotte native.
“Often we can’t get into spaces because we don’t understand those spaces, and a lot of students don’t understand the opportunities that college presents to them,” he said. “I want to try to get my hands into a little bit of everything and set a high standard that inspires my peers, so that they can go on to inspire their peers.”
“Jahmir’s goals are reflective of how HBCUs and their student-entrepreneurs are contributing to Black economic mobility in communities across the country,” said Gina Coleman, PNC’s chief diversity officer. “HBCUs have a rich history dating back to the 19th century, with many already engaged in activities designed to enhance Black entrepreneurship. The added investment of support and resources helps to propel these future business leaders, as they complete their higher education journey within these historic institutions.”
As for Hamilton’s business, he plans to put his $2,500 prize money right back into his games.
“I want to build at least two more games by the time I graduate in 2025 and help our platform get more reach to these kids, and not just for monetary gain,” said Hamilton. “I want us to be the company that makes it and keeps our values.”
A bright future
The PNC North Carolina HBCU Initiative aligns with PNC’s support for HBCUs throughout the country and complements the ongoing offerings of the Howard University and PNC National Center for Entrepreneurship. Additionally, the grant funding is part of PNC’s nationwide $88 billion Community Benefits Plan, which is inclusive of a previously announced commitment of more than $1 billion to support the economic empowerment of Black and low- and moderate-income communities.
Hamilton hopes to make an impact even closer to home.
“My brother, who’s a high school senior, plays a lot of games, and my sister is a high school freshman,” he said. “Not only do I want to protect them online, but I want them to be able to see that, whatever you want to do, you can make it happen.”
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