This week I had the pleasure of speaking to young entrepreneur Collete Davis, a race car driver in the US. I heard about her recent launch of TechDrive.co with co founders Hermione Way and Serhan Perincek, and wanted to learn more about her business ventures and integrating it around her racing career. Read the full interview below:
Hi Collete, great to have you on YHP today, can you give me a little background into yourself?
I started out by working on cars and trucks when I was younger and it got me into indoor racing, racing go-karts and eventually to racing cars. I won my first championships and then decided to pursue it professionally.
When I won my first championship racing go-karts, I told my parents I wanted to make a jump into the professional racing scene. I tried graduating from high school two years early, to start school for mechanical engineering when I was sixteen. And that was a really big turning point just to my racing career – because it allowed me to move to Florida, where there's more racing.
It’s quite a male dominated industry, how did you feel going into it and at such a young age as well?
Racing is definitely a male dominated industry, even mechanical engineering and entrepreneurship is still very male-dominated. I’ve always said that I was lucky to have the gift of being oblivious when I was younger. I never grew up thinking as a stereotyped person what women should become or that I should fit this mold. I just grew up doing what I liked.
Tell me more about your work with STEM?
I went to college for mechanical engineering which is under the STEM education: Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. In my first year my university signed me on to be one of their national ambassadors, and they were also one of my first corporate sponsors. We launched the STEM initiative, where I went around speaking to middle school girls about pursuing careers and STEM in motorsports and other male dominated industries. It’s definitely a very important part of my messaging.
So you set up Collete Davis Racing; what activities come under that?
So that definitely comes more under the entrepreneurship side of things that I am doing. To help me finance my racing career and move forward, I formed a startup, Collete Davis Racing, which is focused around my career as a professional athlete. I am currently raising venture funding to get some of the funds that I need to start my professional racing career.
Oh cool, so what kind of returns are investors expecting compared to a tech startup for instance?
It's very similar, if you look at any professional athlete that's at the top of their sport, they are multi-million-dollar generating companies; from their merchandise, sponsorship, the endorsements and appearances. Every athlete pretty much operates as a business themselves.
What I am doing is formalising that relationship and the business that already exist around athletes. For me I want to set this up before I am in IndyCar, maybe three to four years before I get to the top of my game. It is an opportunity for investors to have a piece of that success as we get closer to IndyCar.
Right, so you're building your brand early before you hit it really big?
Yes, absolutely, that's definitely a big part of raising the value you can return to your investors, and my brand as a whole. Now I’m working on a TV show, a clothing line and really doing a lot of marketing around the brand and my racing career is a big part of that.
What kind of fund raising activities do you do?
Reaching out to sponsors. Without sponsors I don't race, so being able to facilitate those business deals, and creating partnerships with different kind of companies. By showing them how you can help them deliver their message to their customers has been a really big part of it.
It's definitely taught me a lot. And in fact my University for Mechanical Engineering was one of my first sponsors.
You did a crowdfunding campaign right? How much of that was for marketing as well as just raising funds?
Yeah, we launched a little initiative last year to really launch my presence in Silicon Valley and we invited some investors and media out to the race track and it was awesome.
Primarily it was for marketing. I am new to Silicon Valley and I've made a lot of great connections in the past year, but to have some face to face time with investors and media is very valuable. That really helped at that event.
You also went through Draper University, can you tell me how you got into it and how you found out about it?
I found out about it from one of my friends who's an entrepreneur here in SF, and he told me to check it out.
So I got a ticket to SF when Tim had an open house for Draper University - this was before the first class started – and I walked up to Tim I introduced myself. I told him I really wanted to come to his University and about a month later he gave me a scholarship.
Nice! What did you want to get out of Draper University?
It was everything I needed to take my career to the next level. It helped me go from running my career like a company, with the fund-raising aspects, and the marketing and the branding, to actually officialise my company, turn it into a startup and build the structure I need to raise some capital.
Fantastic, and now you're doing TechDrive as well. Tell me about that:
Yes, last week we launched TechDrive, which was amazing. I teamed up with two other co-founders, Hermione Way and Serhan Perincek. We're launching TechDrive to cover the Silicon Valley innovation of travel. With my background as a racing car driver, I really wanna bring together everything to do with innovation in racing and all the stuff that's going on in Silicon Valley.
In the past, in the automotive industry most of the innovation was coming from the race track. But more and more today we're seeing a lot of innovation here in Silcon Valley, and there's definitely enough content that's happening every single day for a dedicated news source. So I am really excited about it.
Where do you want to go with it, is it just publication at the moment or are there other things you want to bring into it?
Our vision is pretty big, we're starting now as a publication, we definitely want to start producing our own original content very soon. We could also see it being a conference; really being able to bring together Detroit and Silicon Valley would be a huge opportunity and if we can be the ones to do it, then all the better for that!
Now we've talked a lot about everything you’re doing but how do you manage your time around all of this?
It's definitely a lot and I am hoping once the racing season gets started next year, with Collete Racing as a company I will have the resources together to have other people help me manage things so I won't be doing all the business end of it, which will help out a lot.
But for me - I've just grown up doing a lot. I've managed my career from the start - while going to school, as a full-time engineering student, also having two part-time jobs - so I am used to doing a lot of things.
All the things I am working on are also relative around me as a race car driver. So they all relate, in their own unique ways, and that definitely helps!
So do you ever get time for a holiday?
Not really! But I am hoping it will pay off in the future.
Good answer. So what advice would you give any early stage entrepreneur?
The biggest thing is getting yourself back up when you fall and staying tenacious. That's what has got me through my career: being tenacious and never giving up. I've been told 'no' a million times, I am still not where I want to be – but I’m on my way and the people that do make it are the people who keep pushing.
What keeps you going? What's your motivation?
My motivation and inspiration comes, honestly, from the people I am surrounding myself with. I think being here is incredible, I am around incredible entrepreneurs and other people that are super passionate about what they're working on. And I am able to share what I am passionate about and what I am working on.
And my main motivation is still around my passion for racing, that's where it started and that's sort of what fueled all these other endeavors.
Thanks Collete; you have done a lot at such a young age, it’s truly inspirational. Good luck with your racing career and other ventures. I look forward to catching up on your progress in a few years’ time!