- Michelle Lepe
Renee Allums BA ’18
To observers, Renee Allums looked calm and composed at the 2019 PitchBlack competition.
In reality, she was “sweating bullets” and her hands trembled slightly as she grabbed the microphone. She and a dozen other young black professionals were there to pitch business start-up ideas to a sold-out crowd at Wieden+Kennedy’s event space in Portland.
“When they clapped, my energy soared and my words started flowing,” she says. “That microphone felt like the key to unlocking my confidence, validating my ideas, and staking my claim as an entrepreneur.”
The audience awarded Allums first place for her concept called #Tag, which is designed to use encrypted digital currency (think Bitcoin) to help represent ownership and protect digital content creators from being exploited by big brands.
To drive home her point, she told the story of Peaches Monroee, a black teenager who touted her eyebrows as “on fleek” in an online video. When the phrase went viral, corporations usurped and monetized it without compensating or crediting Monroee.
Allums nurtured her business acumen while a student at Lewis & Clark College. She served as president of the Entrepreneurship Club and participated in Winterim, a weeklong problem solving and networking program presented by the Bates Center for Entrepreneurship and Leadership. She also connected with Portland’s Emerging Leaders program, landing paid internships at Zapproved, a legal software tech company, and at Nike, which turned into a full-time job in its innovation department. “At Nike, we employed the ‘lean start-up’ method, which encouraged our small team to fail fast and learn quickly,” says Allums.
In November 2019, she joined B+A, a leading creative management consultancy with offices in Portland, London, and Shanghai. In addition to its agency accounts, B+A encourages its employees to use flextime to pursue their own projects. For Allums, that meant traveling to Ghana for inspiration. After the trip, she decided to reexamine her personal business model from “square one,” and ended up rebranding #Tag to Culturtize. She’s currently refining her concept and looking for a tech-savvy business partner.
“Social media is like the Wild West,” she says. “Independent artists and musicians, who depend on it for exposure, risk having their ideas copied or stolen. I’m investigating how new advances in technology can help black creators capitalize on the opportunities online popularity and virality can bring.”
Allums was a high school junior when Lewis & Clark recruited her to play basketball. During her first season, she broke her foot during a practice session. “I was 17, away from home for the first time, and injured,” she says. “Several months of physical therapyforced me to rethink my identity as an athlete.”
Knowing she wanted to own a business—and finding economics too theoretical—Allums flourished in a rhetoric and media theory course taught by Kundai Chirindo, associate professor and director of ethnic studies. “I minored in ethnic studies to learn more about my identity as a black woman,” says Allums. During an overseas study program to Tanzania, she was inspired watching local vendors hustling and selling their wares. “I became more self-aware … more understanding of the kind of person I wanted to be.”
Chrys Hutchings, associate director of the Bates Center, witnessed Allums’ transformation from observer to leader, increasing membership, participation, and programming as president of L&C’s Entrepreneurship Club. “Renee is genuinely generous, freely sharing opportunities with others,” she says. “She innately understands that mentorship is a two-way street. Now that she’s graduated, decades-older professionals treat her as a peer rather than a neophyte.”
Allums feels inspired when she thinks about the future. “I see myself as a leader or manager, guiding my team to the finish line and fundamentally changing the way tech is used by those in power,” she says. “It’s important to stay curious, open, flexible—and always intentional.”
—by Pattie Pace