The Evolution of an Artist

Allen Morris-Smith (aka Skvwalker, “Sky” for short) was born and raised in North Philadelphia. He fell in love with art when he was a young child, and attended the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts where he majored in Visual Art. 

For college, he chose to remain in Philadelphia and enrolled at Drexel University where he began studying Computer Science. It was not long before he realized he wanted to embark on a more creative path. He switched his major to entertainment and arts management (with a focus on digital media management and graphic design) at Drexel’s Westphal College of Media Art and Design. 

It was at this time, that Sky became interested in Cryptography; he began devising ciphers with his friend Daveik (aka “Isnotcynical”), mapping notes to letters in the composition of  music, which led to a more serious pursuit of  the craft of music-making and the creation of original, thought-provoking projects that combined music composition, film and animation.

Daveik (left) and Sky (right)

In 2018, he formed an artist collective, VodHavok, and produced his first mix tape, System Overload. Working with the collective in the creation of System Overload showed Sky the trans-formative power of collaboration and its unlimited creative potential. 

A three-month trip to Los Angeles followed, giving Sky an opportunity to meet and network with creatives outside the music industry. He worked with filmmakers and social influencers to produce a Pokemon YouTube short that inspired him to bring more visual aesthetics to his Skvwalker persona.  

It was in L.A. that Sky met Jordan Francis, who become both a friend and collaborator. Together, they began developing ideas for short films and skits and uploaded their first video, Goku v Uub, to their YouTube channel, Epitome Pictures. Upon returning to Philadelphia, Sky solidified his partnership with Jordan and they created a series of short music videos called Freestyle Fridays for VodHavok. Since then, VodHavok has grown into a full production studio (VodHavok Studios LLC) that works with videographers, photographers, fashion designers and other creatives who share Sky’s passion and dedication to producing quality art, expressed through the media of music, fashion, graphic design and film making.  

Jordan Francis

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for Sky, as it has been for everyone in the music and entertainment industry. Social distancing has resulted in the cancellation of video shoots, performances and other large events. One positive outcome of the pandemic is the increased awareness of the challenges that early-stage entrepreneurs face. Large, more-established, companies are coming together to support start-ups like VodHavok. For his summer Co Op experience at Drexel, Sky is currently incubating his company at the Baiada Institute where he receives mentoring and support, access to professionals, networking opportunities, and funds to finance the growth of his business.  

What does the future hold for Sky and VodHavok? Sky intends to continue his artistic journey as a Creative Director, Rapper, and Animator in the entertainment industry and in the field of music. On the horizon, is the roll-out of his LP, Broke Music and Broke Music in Surround Sound with BrandNameRecords. In addition to the production of original content, VodHavok Studios will continue to provide creative services to other’s looking to collaborate. 

According to Sky, “An entrepreneur is simply someone with a business idea. Anyone can say they are an entrepreneur. However, those who take the journey and see their ideas through, earn the merit of that title, which, ultimately determines how far they will go.”

How far will Sky go? Watch out Hollywood, watch out AMA’s, watch out world. Remember this name: Skvwalker.  

Follow Sky on Social Media:

The New Normal Post #7: How Drexel Entrepreneurs are Pivoting in the Age of COVID -19.


The focus of this blog has always been female entrepreneurship – after all, the name of the blog is The Ladies who Launch! But at this unprecedented time of COVID-19, I am pivoting to include male founders, whose stories of how they are adapting to the “new normal” are instructive to budding entrepreneurs everywhere.

Featuring Trey Lewis, Sports Fan and Entrepreneur

Drexel alum, Trey Lewis, grew-up in San Diego, California: a place where the weather is so nice that it was possible for Trey to play outside year-round participating in the sports that he loved. He played every sport under the sun, from swimming to golf to tennis. The only sport he wasn’t allowed to play was football, and with all the headlines in recent years regarding traumatic brain injuries, Trey is grateful to his mom, every day, for putting down her foot.

WeWager Founder and CEO, Trey Lewis

Trey’s father was an entrepreneur and he encouraged Trey’s innate entrepreneurial spirit. When Trey was ten, his dad asked him if he would ever consider following in his footsteps. Trey thought he was joking – he was too young to see himself someday in the same position as his father. It wasn’t until college that Trey realized that he had inherited his dad’s entrepreneurial drive.

Trey chose to attend Drexel University for two reasons: 1) the four seasons and 2) its Co-Op program. The thrill of everyday life in a northeastern climate quickly wore – off, but the Drexel Co-Op program proved to be a positive. Trey was able to hone his skills in the real world and these experiences cemented his belief that a person can learn more in practice than in theory. One of his Co-Ops included an opportunity to grow his business at Drexel University’s Close School of Entrepreneurship’s Baiada Institute, where he was given office space, access to technology, expert advice from mentors, and a stipend.

The Original SportsStock Team

Trey was awarded this Co-Op experience for a business that he began in high school with a friend, who was a business fanatic. His friend specialized in stocks, and by the age of 16, had amassed a portfolio worth thousands of dollars. They combined their passions and started SportsStock – a fantasy sports stock market. The premise behind SportsStock was this: sports teams acted as companies in the stock exchange; every team had a monetary value and that value changed depending on their performance on the field. Users of SportsStock could buy into a team with the goal of buying low and selling high.

There proved to be many complications with the development of SportsStock, and Trey decided to pivot. He created a new business – a sports betting app with a twist – and named it WeWager. WeWager is a social sports betting platform, where social media users can connect, compete, share, and participate in peer-to-peer sports betting with other sports fanatics.

As with many small businesses and start-ups, COVID-19 changed WeWager’s trajectory. The sports industry continues to struggle with the complex problem of how to combine public sports competitions with safe social distancing measures. Live sports events, at present, are non-existent, throwing the whole premise of WeWager into question. Trey credits The Close School with teaching him how to take a terrible situation and turn it into a positive: the WeWager team chose to see COVID-19 as an opportunity instead of a hindrance.  WeWager shifted its focus to eSports. eSports is an up and coming sports sub-industry that everyone is watching, even prior to the Pandemic. WeWager is now positioned to become one of the premier sports betting platforms within eSports. Users of the WeWager platform can remain safe while still doing what they love. With this pivot, opportunities for funding and marketing opportunities have increased, along with access to other resources.

As for the future of WeWager, Trey writes, “WeWager is a lifestyle career that I will not only love developing every single day, but it is a company that can also make an impact in the world. This is what makes an entrepreneur an entrepreneur: the ability to see a product as something much larger than anyone else can see it.”

Trey Lewis and WeWager are the featured entrepreneurs on this week’s Proving Ground Pop Up. They will also be the guest this week on Drexel’s Stay-Cation Summer Interview Series on Wednesday, July 22 at 1pm (RSVP here). Trey and WeWager are on Social Media! Website: https://wewager.io/ Instagram: www.instagram.com/wewagersports/



Niaka Porte of NP Baking Co.

Introducing Naturally Gluten Free Liberian Recipes to America

Banana Love Bread

When Niaka Porte first offered me a gluten-free banana muffin to try, I was tentative. I don’t have a gluten-free diet; in fact, I love gluten. Pasta and bread are two of my most favorite foods. Niaka was giving out samples to our work office to get customer feedback. I should not have hesitated; for me, it was love at first bite. Her muffins were light and airy, and incredibly moist, with a clear, fresh, banana taste. Each time Niaka made an adjustment to her recipe, she brought in samples for us to try. I, along with my colleagues, would rush into the office kitchen to grab one before they quickly disappeared. When she added chocolate chips, I was in heaven.

Niaka Porte

Niaka’s recipe is derived from Rice Bread that she baked with her mom as a child. Rice Bread is naturally gluten-free; it contains cream of rice, instead of wheat. Rice Bread is a traditional Liberian baked good. Her mom and dad immigrated to America from Liberia in the 1990’s to escape the civil war that was decimating their country, to find a better life and provide more opportunities for their growing family. Some of Niaka’s favorite childhood memories were eating Rice Bread hot out of the oven, gobbling it up before her two sisters could get a bite.

Niaka is a third-year student at Drexel University, majoring in Marketing and minoring in Business Development with a keen interest in Entrepreneurship. Her mom, who owns two businesses, has been an inspiration to Niaka. She owns a Liberian restaurant named Kadi’s and a cleaning company called Cameron’s Cleaning Company. (Named after Niaka’s younger sister, Cameron, who ironically, Niaka told me, laughing, doesn’t like to clean!)

When Niaka was a senior in high school, she attended a 6-month after school program at Cabrini College – The Young Entrepreneurs Academy. There, she learned how to write a business plan and how to pitch to investors. She met independent business and franchise owners. It was at The Young Entrepreneurs Academy that Niaka first conceived of the business she is currently pursuing – NP Baking Company. For her Fall/Winter Coop experience at Drexel, beginning this September, she will continue developing NP Baking Company as part of Drexel’s Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship. There, she will be provided office space, access to office equipment and technology, and receive mentoring from experts in the field of entrepreneurship as well as money to help grow her idea.

Like many small businesses, Niaka has pivoted in reaction to the Coronavirus pandemic. Instead of baking finished loaves and muffins to be sold in retail food stores or online, Niaka is developing her recipe into a mix that the consumer can buy, add their own oil and bananas, and bake at home. Restaurants have been closed and people all over the world are staying home and re-discovering the joy of home baking and cooking. Not only does Niaka’s pivot take advantage of this food trend, but it is scale-able and eliminates the problem of shelf-life that is inherent in a perishable product.

The other driver that ignites Niaka’s passion for NP Baking Company is her desire to expose Americans to the culture of Liberia. When Niaka was in high school, she visited Liberia for the first time to meet her grandmother. She was inspired and fascinated by the country. Liberia is a gorgeous, though impoverished, country on the coast of West Africa. Its landscape is diverse – from coastal beach communities in the west to verdant mountains and rainforests to its north and interior. It is an agrarian society – rice and cassava are its two main crops. Its people are both native Africans and the descendants of American slaves who colonized the country in the 1800s. Christianity is its main religion, but Christianity with a supernatural bent – self-proclaimed prophets interpret dreams and visions; church services include dancing, and holy days are celebrated with colorful processions through the streets.

Liberia

Upon returning home, Niaka was surprised by people’s perception of Liberia or more aptly, their lack of perception. NP Baking Company hopes to introduce the cuisine of Liberia to America and in the process, raise awareness of Liberia as its own distinct country in West Africa. Niaka is proud of her unique heritage and she wants to share it!

To learn more about Niaka and NP Baking Company, visit her website: www.npbakingcompany.com; her facebook page: https://m.facebook.com/npbakingco; or her Instagram: www.instagram.com/npbakingco/. She can be reached via email at info@npbaking.co.