Alumna finds the sweet spot of success

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

Professional chef and owner of Ruby Scoops Ice Cream & Sweets Rabia Kamara (B.S.’10/B) whips up small-batch, locally sourced, handcrafted desserts and baked goods that she sells in the Washington, D.C., area. Kamara was recently named one of the top black chefs influencing the capital’s culinary culture by Spoon University and will make her first national TV appearance April 30 on Food Network’s “Guy’s Grocery Games.”

Kamara will take over VCU Alumni’s Instagram the week of Monday, April 24. During that week, she will share her preparations for D.C.’s Broccoli City Festival, set for May 6, and the path she’s taken since graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2010.

What made you choose to attend VCU?

One of my sisters, Sawida (B.S.’99/H&S; M.P.H.’02/M), attended VCU for both her undergrad and master’s degrees. We didn’t grow up together so I didn’t start spending regular time with her until middle school while she was living in Richmond and attending VCU for her master’s. She and her friends all seemed to love the city and school, which really stuck with me.

As I got ready to apply for college, I decided to seriously look into going to VCU. I knew it would challenge me academically, but growing up in Montgomery County, Maryland, I was used to the challenge. I also wanted to be out of state but close enough that if there were an emergency, I could get in my car and drive home.

The first time I visited VCU’s Monroe Park Campus, it solidified my decision. I was in love. There’s a liveliness to campus that I’d never been exposed to or been a part of before, but as soon as I breathed in the air, I was in.

What’s your favorite memory from your time as a student?

Where do I even begin!? From staying up until 5 a.m. in my dorm and still managing to make it to an 8 a.m. class to parties in the Commons and probates. I remember when I first moved off campus and finally got to experience Richmond and fall in love with the city on my own terms. Above all, it was the relationships I made with the people around me and having the chance to reinforce my relationship with myself that I remember the most.

Did you always want to be a chef?

Food has always been a passion of mine, but when I first came to VCU I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. When I realized I wasn’t going to go to law school as my family wanted, but that I actually wanted to go to culinary school and pursue my passion, it created lot of inner turmoil and tension. It was my friends in the city and at the university who provided me the support system I needed to stick to my guns. They helped me follow my dreams, and I never thought that being at VCU would have led me on that path.

So how did you come to start Ruby Scoops?

I graduated with a B.S. in marketing, which I’ve utilized every day since graduating. I saved the money from my first, and only, noncooking full-time job as a cushion when I started culinary school. I attended L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland and graduated with distinction in 2012. I’ve been cooking professionally for five years now and started Ruby Scoops in 2015. It’s been great because my fellow Rams have been ridiculously supportive, buying and boosting my brand, and the lessons I learned as a student have been extremely helpful on my entrepreneurial journey.

What’s next for you and Ruby Scoops?

Currently we’re partnering with FRESHFARM farmers markets to raise $10,000 through a Kiva microloan to do more wholesale and save for a brick-and-mortar location next year. This summer we’ll be making our RVA debut at the Heart & Soul Brewfest at Hardywood, and we’ll also be at this year’s Broccoli City Festival in D.C.!

I’d really love to come back to Richmond and open up a shop someday near campus. My dream is to live above my shop and show not just my fellow Rams, but also Richmond, what can happen when you follow your dreams and work hard to reach them.

Noah Scalin’s latest project: A portrait of Frances Lewis made out of canned food and sundries

Photos by Julia Rendleman, University Marketing.

Noah Scalin isn’t the first artist to create a portrait of Frances Lewis. That distinction belongs to Andy Warhol, who became friends with the art collector and her husband, Sydney, in the 1960s.

But Scalin is the first to create Lewis’ portrait out of canned food and sundries. Part of his “Portrait of Innovation” series, the work is Scalin’s second large pop-up installation at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business. The piece takes on a different look depending where you stand and can only be fully recognized from a specific spot.

Scalin, the VCU School of Business’ first-ever artist-in-residence, has spent the 2016-17 academic year teaching faculty, staff and students how to hone their creative problem-solving skills by thinking differently. After challenging them to leave their comfort zone, he set an example himself with his latest portrait by experimenting with a new medium.

“This is the first time I’ve ever done a portrait of a living person,” he said. “It’s also the first time I’ve done a portrait using these materials. This was an incredibly frightening challenge, overwhelming to me.”

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New capstone collaboration: Engineering and business students join forces to build startups

From left, Wesley Bosman, Majid Al Ashari, Jon Dyke, Marcus Massok, Ashraf Al Gumaei, James Walters and Justin Artis (not pictured) are one of 11 interdisciplinary teams of engineering and entrepreneurship students collaborating on capstone projects this year. They are designing — and commercializing — a wearable cardiac arrest detection device. (Courtesy photo)

Students in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering’s Capstone Design course are building entrepreneurship skills alongside students in the VCU School of Business thanks to a new program that teaches engineering and business students how to create a startup.

VCU Engineering’s yearlong Capstone Design course immerses all senior engineering students in the hands-on process of solving real-world problems. This year, 11 VCU Engineering Capstone Design teams have also joined the business school’s two-semester entrepreneurship capstone course, New Venture Strategy and Initiation, to learn the process of launching a new company. The goal is a cross-disciplinary learning experience that results in innovative products — and viable platforms for getting them to consumers. The engineering and business students will team up to present their innovations at the School of Engineering Capstone Expo on April 28 at VCU’s Stuart C. Siegel Center.

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VCU School of Business recognized by AACSB International for driving innovation in business education

The world’s largest global education network has recognized a Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business program as an innovation that inspires. Monday at its 2017 Deans Conference, AACSB International unveiled 35 innovations that represent critical work being done by business schools to better their communities and society at large. The VCU School of Business was recognized for its artist-in-residence program, in which celebrated artist Noah Scalin helped the school institute its new strategic plan, and its effort to drive the future of business through the power of creativity.

“It’s wonderful that the School of Business recognizes the transformative power of art,” Scalin said. “The opportunity for connection, collaboration and dialogue allows the students to have a more in-depth learning experience, which will not only enhance their classroom experiences, but their lives beyond the school’s walls as well.”

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Brandcenter alumni shine on massive Super Bowl stage

Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter alumni once again played their part in the annual spectacle that is the Super Bowl, contributing their expertise and talent to the creation of a bevy of commercials that aired around the world during Sunday’s broadcast.

As in past years, the Brandcenter, part of the School of Business, was well-represented in the parade of big-budget ads that serve as an entertaining aside to the big game itself. Ultimately, 11 Brandcenter alumni had a hand in nine of the commercials that aired during Super Bowl LI.

Here are this year’s ads with Brandcenter ties.


With ‘Boardgrab,’ VCU student’s company aims to reinvent how surfers buy used surfboards

Tony Cannella  Photo by Allen Jones, University Marketing.

Tony Cannella
Photo by Allen Jones, University Marketing.

Over the summer, Virginia Commonwealth University student Tony Cannella lived out of his pickup truck as he traveled from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to northern New Jersey, visiting just about every surf shop along the way to sign them up for his fast-growing used surfboard startup company, Boardgrab.

“We’re calling it [that] we went on tour. I loaded up the truck, and lived out of it all summer,” said Cannella, a senior in the School of Business. “The routine was: Wake up at six in the morning, go to Starbucks and work for four hours, then go to the surf shops as soon as they opened and catalog boards until they closed. Then I’d go back to Starbucks and put the boards up on our site.”

The close-knit surf community can sometime be leery of outsiders when it comes to doing business, so Cannella, a longtime surfer, knew he would need to reach out to each individual surf shop owner in person.

“I would walk in and tell them, ‘We’re Boardgrab, the best place to buy used surfboards,’” Cannella said. “‘We partner with surf shops to catalog their used inventory to our site to help you sell more used surfboards faster. We aren’t charging anything right now — we think of ourselves as surf shop support to help get your boards out to the public and limit your dead inventory in the shop.’”

Nearly 30 surf shops up and down the East Coast agreed to let Cannella post their used surfboard inventory to Boardgrab’s site. Only one shop declined the offer.

“We’re pretty happy with those results,” Cannella said. “We’ve had almost a thousand boards come through the site already.”

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One job gives interns opportunity to gain experience from several companies at once

Aaron Ware, at left, and Nick Green, at right. Photo by Bowie Mok.

Aaron Ware, at left, and Nick Green, at right.
Photo by Bowie Mok.

Graduation was fast approaching for Aaron Ware (B.S.’15/B) and Nick Green (B.S.’15/B) in December 2015 and the VCU School of Business students were trying to figure out what their next steps would be.

They didn’t have to look far. As interns at Lighthouse Labs, a local business accelerator, Ware and Green had experience working at five different companies. One of them, Painless1099, had won a spot in 43North, the largest business idea competition in the world. Along with $500,000 in prize money, Painless, founded by three former VCU students, won a year of incubator space in Buffalo, New York, mentorship opportunities, resources and tax breaks.

As Painless was getting ready to move to Buffalo at the start of 2016, it needed help. Ware and Green knew the company founders needed to hire experienced business developers, but that they would have a hard time finding qualified workers on such short notice.

“At this point, we really knew the business well and we really worked with the team well,” Green said. “We pitched ourselves as, ‘Look, we’re going to work harder than anyone else. We already worked well with the team, we know the team. This would just be a really easy transition.’”

The company founders agreed, due in large part to the pair’s experience as Lighthouse interns. They joined the company on Jan. 1 and moved to Buffalo two days later.

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VCU School of Business announces its first artist-in-residence

Noah Scalin.

Noah Scalin.

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business will host its first ever artist-in-residence during the upcoming 2016­–2017 academic year.

Celebrated artist Noah Scalin will help the school institute its new strategic plan, which aims to drive the future of business through the power of creativity. Scalin will conduct several creative-thinking seminars, guest lecture in courses, create large-scale artwork installations with the students and spearhead a 30-day Creative Sprint challenge in October and during the spring semester. These will connect VCU School of Business students, faculty and staff with elements of the strategic plan through experiential learning, creative problem-solving curricula, innovative research and creative culture.

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VCU offers new Master of Decision Analytics degree

A new Master of Decision Analytics degree in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business will give students expertise in advanced statistical analysis, big-data information technology and state-of-the-practice analytics software.

Students will get experience using real — and sometimes messy — data to solve real problems for real clients. Classes start this fall.

The degree’s traditional track offers evening classes that can be taken full or part time. The professional track is a weekend cohort program specifically designed for working professionals who want to earn the advanced degree without interrupting their careers.

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New da Vinci Center director sees university as a living lab

Garret Westlake, Ph.D., executive director of the VCU da Vinci Center, in the former vault housing the center's 3-D printers and other high-tech tools. Photo by Pat Kane/University Public Affairs

Garret Westlake, Ph.D., executive director of the VCU da Vinci Center, in the former vault housing the center’s 3-D printers and other high-tech tools. Photo by Pat Kane/University Public Affairs

As associate dean of student entrepreneurship in the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Arizona State University, Garret Westlake oversaw the university’s status as the country’s No. 1 most innovative university — beating out Stanford and MIT, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Westlake, who became the executive director of the Virginia Commonwealth University da Vinci Center July 1, sums up the cause of ASU’s success with an anecdote about the school’s swim coach.

“We had a student robotics team that wanted to test an underwater robot,” Westlake said. “They came to me and said, ‘The deepest body of water in all of Arizona is the ASU swim team and dive pool. Is there any way we can test our robot in the swim team pool?’ I called the swim coach [but] thought this was never going to happen. And his feedback to me was, ‘I understand that entrepreneurship is one of our values at this institution. So anything this team needs to do in the pool outside of hours we can absolutely make it available to them.’

“And I thought a culture where your swim coach recognizes the value of entrepreneurship and innovation and opens the doors to facilities that might not otherwise be thought of as, you know, test beds for new technology, really speaks to an innovative culture across an institution.”

Westlake believes one way to create such a culture is to allow students the opportunity to fail, which means allowing them to put into practice what they’re studying, rather than just sitting in a classroom or reading. Whether that means experimenting with an underwater robot in the pool or a creating a new resin for gloves used by the tennis or golf team, the goal is to turn the whole university into a living lab.

In a Q&A with VCU News, Westlake explained how he has hit the ground running in creating that environment.

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