By Alex Distefano
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A new city startup promises to eliminate student loans for those who'll share their future income with investors
Ross speaks with gratitude about being able to fully dedicate himself to his entrepreneurial vision at such a young age. “I’ve met so many people my age who really want to do things. PAVE is like, ‘Go ahead, try it.’”
PAVE also promises to help prospects by connecting them to a team of accomplished professionals, and if you listen to Baruch College senior Anjelica Mantikas and Gates, both of whose profiles were posted this summer, the possibility of finding a wise and well-connected mentor was just as appealing as receiving a large chunk of money.
Like Ross, Mantikas envisions a multifaceted career, with a human rights law practice anchoring less remunerative nonprofit projects and higher-risk pursuits, such as her plan to develop a multimedia platform for telling stories she’s gathered from Ghana and other developing countries. It was this project that led her to PAVE, which she hoped would—in addition to sending her $20,000 from backers to invest in starting it up—connect her with a media-savvy backer to help her draft a business plan. As presented on the PAVE site, her plan was “to help create a platform for either a written publication, a web channel or a television show that focuses on the beauty in developing nations.” Asked if this seemed vague, she said, “PAVE allows you to be more vague” than crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter.
Gates, who was named as one of Glamour magazine’s Top Twenty Under Twenty-Five in 2010 for projects including an HIV testing program for teenagers in Brooklyn, racked up $20,000 in student loans at Hunter as well as credit card debt funding her initiatives as a student. She says she signed on for a practical reason—the 3.5 percent she’d owe to her backers is “definitely less than my APR,” she says. “But more so than the money, I’m definitely here for the relationship.” Gates, who is at work on a documentary about hip-hop journalists, hoped taking on a backer would be “like adding someone to my board of directors.”
Lahoud suggests that it will be the rare prospect who has a standing coffee date with his or her backer, and that most mentoring will occur online, using messaging features PAVE says its engineers are refining. Ross himself says he’s had limited contact with anyone other than Lefebvre, with whom he e-mails frequently; among other things, she put him in touch with a contact that led to his first publication on the Huffington Post.
When the Voice reached out to Mantikas and Gates, they were both in the middle of the first, 60-day phase of seeking funding, and neither had yet attracted any interest from backers—a circumstance that was causing Gates to reflect on the viability of the model. “I think PAVE is a brilliant idea,” she said. “But if I don’t get funding, then what?”
Asked what she would do if she failed to raise her minimum, she answered quickly: “Kickstarter.”