Jersey City — It’s not everyday that an HBCU is approached by a startup backed by $200 million in funding, but it should be.
Rather than waiting for an opportunity to approach them, two Gen Z Howard University students took a carpe diem approach when finding resources to support their student-led film organization, HUFO (Howard University Film Organization).
The effort landed Lauryn Johnson, HUFO president, and Elise Gentry, HUFO director of outreach – both 20 – the opportunity to spearhead a sponsorship from global media and technology company Backlight, a Boston-based startup that creates software to improves every stage of the video and entertainment content lifecycle from creation through monetization.
Backlight emerged from stealth mode last year backed by $200 million in private equity funding from PSG.
The duo began looking for sponsors after conceptualizing HUFO’s collective short film series called “Where’s Everybody At?” The afrosurrealism series explores the dually warped and whimsical aspects of what it means to be a young Black person in America.
The series is in place to provide both Howard undergrad and grad students film and technology experience spanning the production process both in front-of and behind the camera.
Johnson told YR Media, that at HUFO initially reached out to Backlight after discovering their pre-production screenwriting software Celtx, which stuck out to HUFO in comparison to other softwares on the market because of its ability to automate script formatting to industry standards in addition to it being able to create a storyboard with an existing script.
At first, HUFO figured that Backlight could provide a student discount to use Celtx, instead, Backlight offered HUFO access to a suite of its technology-fueled production software that allows filmmakers to do tech-savvy things like streamline footage for producers by allowing limitless footage to be uploaded into Backlight’s storage cloud that editors can work out of remotely.
“We are filmmakers of the 21st century, learning to adapt and be super flexible,” Johnson said. “Backlight’s software really helps us do that.”
A Backlight representative said that its software has been used in Oscar award winning films like “Dune” and “Spiderman: No Way Home”. Beyond its high-tech production capacities, Blaklight’s software also helps film creators monetize and distribute their projects.
“Being at an HBCU, two things are very important [to me] as a creative student – the network, but also the resources,” Gentry said. “HBCUs have resources, but the types of resources that really make all the difference. One thing that's really helpful about getting technology that we didn't previously have is that it opens us up to a whole new world of efficiency of collaboration.”
“What we're doing [with HUFO] is kind of unprecedented within Howard, even the manner in which we're doing it, so we don't have that much to follow,” she continued. “Having technology [like Backlight’s] that's intuitive and allows us to kind of walk through it with some structure that's been super helpful.”
As a recent HBCU grad and active tech worker, I can personally attest to the fact that HBCUs are not benefiting enough from the immense amount of resources in the nation’s startup ecosystem.
Some predominantly white institutions on the other hand are equipped with venture labs that create startups that solve solutions for students on campus and beyond.
Those same PWIs often have access to additional resources like on campus startup funding opportunities, creating endless opportunities for their students while the barrier to access at HBCUs continues to exist.
Without realizing it Johnson and Gentry acted as many early-stage startups do when first entering the market. They went above and beyond to locate resources to keep their vision going and more importantly, they had no problem reaching out to an emerging innovator to get the job done.
Keeping it gee, HBCUs and their student bodies can take a lot away from HUFO’s open-minded approach to collaborating with the world of tech and startups. Doing so will allow HBCUs to explore new technologies and further embed their students into a world of endless possibility and innovation.