DOVER – Serial entrepreneur Chris Morris was working on his latest idea when he received an email telling him about a new Impact Accelerator program targeting black founders that was launched by Amazon Web Services (AWS).
“I was shocked because it’s not something you see often. There aren’t many programs like this that are specifically for black founders,” he said .
AWS, the website hosting and development services of e-commerce giant Amazon, has launched a $30 million commitment for early-stage startups led by underrepresented founders, along with the first program, the AWS Impact Accelerator for Black Founders.
After vetting thousands of applicants from across the country, year-old Rush Roto was selected from 25 shortlisted startups for a cash prize of $125,000, $100,000 in AWS site credit, and training. by Amazon officials. This week, he and co-founder/chief technology officer David Asbery are at Amazon headquarters in Seattle for this training.
Dover-based Rush Roto aims to give small business owners the tools to produce product videos suitable for social media promotion via a user-friendly smartphone app.
“One of the things we’ve noticed is how extremely expensive it is to be able to do promotional stuff as a small business,” Morris said. “And coming from the African-American community, resources are always scarce.”
Morris didn’t go through a high-tech training program to design apps – he started at the age of 15, teaching himself using guides and manuals on the Internet.
As a teenage entrepreneur, Morris ran a local recording studio in his Philadelphia neighborhood. Seeking to make his products stand out to buyers, he discovered a niche.
“I found out you could encode a video onto an audio CD, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to do that,” he said, noting that buyers of his CDs can play them on their stereos, but also insert them into a DVD player. to watch promotional content and music videos.
After this discovery, Morris became addicted to learning more and eventually trained in app and product development, working for Fortune 500 companies.
About eight years ago, the Philadelphia native moved his family to Smyrna to take advantage of Delaware’s cheaper cost of living. Morris was developing a different app which accidentally led to Rush Roto.
He explained that he was working on a mixed reality app that would allow users to see a musician or performer as if they were in 3D in front of them.
“Following this idea, I needed software that could remove the background and leave only the subject,” he said, noting that paying for the design turned out too expensive, so he built it himself. “I showed it to a bunch of people, and they weren’t that enthusiastic. So, I took that and was like, ‘What else can I do with it? ‘ »
The answer was in his own home, as his wife runs a successful Etsy shop. They used it to showcase some of its products in short videos for popular social media sites, and found the results to look great and get views.
Recognizing that most small business owners like his wife don’t have big advertising budgets for Facebook or Google, and rely heavily on their own social media posts to sell products, they sensed an opportunity to reach a untapped market.
“They need repeating videos that are slightly different or something more interesting and dynamic for users to scroll through on social media,” Morris said.
They are preparing to launch a beta version of the Rush Roto app in about three weeks and, after weeks of testing and feedback, hope to launch the full retail version of the app to the public this summer.
With $125,000 in seed funding currently in the pipeline, Morris said he plans to grow Rush Roto’s small workforce – aside from Morris and Asbery, they employ a user interface and experience designer in Nigeria. whom they met through another startup founder program. At least initially, the new roles would be focused on product design, as they would create additional backgrounds and templates to help small businesses showcase their products.
Morris said he was delighted to be recognized in such a big national competition and hoped victory would produce long-term growth here.
“I felt like this was a time when I could realistically have a big impact on my family and start leaving a bigger legacy,” he said. “We want to put stakes and grow them in Delaware.”