Nehemiah Stewart was in his dorm alone during fall break of his freshman year at UNC-Chapel Hill. He was feeling sorry for himself because he wasn’t able to find an affordable travel option to take him back to his home in Washington, D.C.
His sophomore year fall break found him in the same exact position—alone in his dorm room. That’s when the idea hit him: a ridesharing app like Uber, but focusing on longer-distance rides instead of short trips. He immediately began sketching out app ideas and pitching it to his friends and roommates. And thus, Vector Rideshare was born.
The ridesharing app is built for college students and university staff to carpool on trips that are longer than a 10-minute drive but shorter than a plane ride. A rider must have a university email address to sign up, making the rides safer, Stewart said. Social media accounts are also linked to profiles so that you can check out who you’re riding with ahead of time.
Drivers must also have a school email and show proof of a school ID.
Stewart is a double major in chemistry and math, and never planned on getting into business or technology.
“But I do believe that when innovation calls upon individuals, it’s up to that individual call to answer that,” he said.
Stewart went from drawing pictures of the app, to making PowerPoint slides, to Photoshop, and then he finally taught himself several software languages by ordering books on Amazon. He had the first version of the app created by the end of 2018.
He then went out onto UNC’s campus with a small group of friends and started asking students for feedback.
“We really listened to the people,” he said. “Because I believe that in technology, there’s an incongruence between product and people.”
Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Vector’s business model was just like other ridesharing apps, taking a small percentage of every trip. Now, the company has implemented subscription plans.
In terms of funding, Stewart took the company to several student pitch competitions. At the Entrepreneur’s Organization: Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, the company placed ninth in the world.
After he received enough traction, the company opened up a funding round that allowed them to grow to where they are today.
Now, Vector is in the midst of a second round of funding.
The official app launched in December of 2019 and had about 500 downloads by March. During the pandemic, the team focused on marketing and the app now has over 2,500 downloads.
The app is available on 11 different campuses, with 55 interns working for the company plus six core team members.
Regarding his original plan to go to medical school after college, Stewart has decided that that dream can wait.
“I’m not sure if in 20 years from now, I can go back and recreate this kind of culture we’ve made so far,” he said. “My fear is if I stop now, can I ever do it again?”
In the future, Stewart plans to expand Vector to include companies as well as universities.
Oh, and he plans to return to the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards and leave with the first-place prize.