Program Report: The New Class of Innovation Fellows

Club member, Ari Medoff, introduced the three newest Rotary Innovation Fellows to the club, briefly explained the background behind the Innovation Fellows program and pointing out that with the support of a fund, the Rotary Innovations Fellows can now apply for a $2,000 grant to support the efforts of their ventures. He then turned the podium over to each of them to explain their ventures and report progress of them.

Camryn Smith is Executive Director of Communities in Partnership. She said that it started out about six to seven years ago as an effort to create a safe space in their neighborhood in Old East Durham.  It has grown to be a holistic effort at community development for Afro-American People and other Communities as well. She explained that it focuses on areas of Racial Equity, Leadership Development, Health Care and Wellness and is also involved with the purchase of housing stock that can provide affordable housing for those working and living in Durham’s gentrifying neighborhoods. She has been at this for about seven years and cites Self Help Credit Union, Duke Healthcare, the Durham Merchant’s Association and others who have been great help to her. She said that they have developed a Food Co-op and are partnering with Durham Tech for new business ideas. Website:

Cecilia Polanci opened with the fact that she just turned 26 and that her father came to the U.S. from El Salvador when he was 26. She said that she has been three years in Durham and has a food truck called “So Good Pupusas, A Taste of El Salvador.” While she has ambitions to expand to another food truck or a storefront, she is also focused on helping others. She is an ally of undocumented people and created a non-profit scholarship program called P4E, that is helping 5 students. She is a graduate of UNC, Chapel Hill and was able to attend due to scholarship assistance. She is dreaming big about possibilities for others and is particularly in need of help on how to grow endowments in order to make that happen. Website:

Tobias Rose is the Principle/Owner of Kompleks Creative, a venture that he started from his dorm room at NC Central University. Now located downtown on Black Wall Street at 106 Parrish Street, their focus on helping people “do what they like” through branding, web site design and other creative work with a focus now on clients in Durham. As they refocused on the local market, they noticed that there was a pronounced lack of Venture Capital Help for Black-owned businesses. That led them to found Black Wall Street Homecoming, a three-day series of entertainment, speakers, workshops and networking opportunities. Over five years the event has grown and attracted some of the top publications and experts on Entrepreneurship, including a recent appearance by the editorial staff of “Fast Company.” They are continuing to look at new initiatives as they grow. Website:

Submitted by Doug Butler

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