Led by Duke senior Abby Huang, Durham-based startup Dime Marketplace connects brands with social-media-savvy student “ambassadors” on college campuses across the country.
Huang, who will present at CED’s Venture Connect summit on March 29-30, said the company represents a “movement” of young entrepreneurs connecting brands with one of the market’s most highly coveted consumer bases: Generation Z.
For Huang, who said she often struggled to be taken seriously by her peers and older entrepreneurs alike as she became involved in Duke’s entrepreneurship programs, the startup’s growth is proof of her own entrepreneurial potential. Often, she said, others were surprised to see an undergraduate take entrepreneurship so seriously.
“When I first approached starting a startup, I really put my head in the game,” Huang said. “I thought, ‘I’m not going to give up here, I’ve made it this far. It’s what I want to do.’ It’s what I am passionate about, which isn’t getting the 4.0 GPA and landing a great corporate job. Even though that’s a really exciting path for a lot of people, I just don’t think it was for me.”
In late 2021, Huang began putting her entrepreneurial studies to work, collaborating with Duke Fuqua School of Business graduate students to build what would become Dime. She is the Founder and CEO.
Here’s how Dime works. The company chooses student “ambassadors” from university hubs across the country. Current hubs include Duke, Emory University and Princeton and other elite institutions, with aspirations to expand to UNC-Chapel Hill and Northwestern soon.
“Our unique advantage at the end of the day—our bread and butter—is our ambassadors,” Huang said. “Then our followers, people who keep up with our content [and] our ambassadors to amplify our vision and our brands. That is something that other companies cannot replicate as a fancy tech solution.”
Once Dime has created a “hub” of ambassadors on a campus, they can offer companies connections to the student body through product placement, in-person events and social media presence.
“Can you find another company out there that directly allows you to reach top schools in the U.S. and U.K., where they have ambassadors that are claws-deep within the campus community?” Huang asked. “It’s really hard to figure out who is the best individual on each campus to lead that drive, but we have that through our ambassadors. They make up the community, and they are claws within that community. They fill out that whitespace.”
The company’s unique model has attracted big-name clients, especially in the fashion space. Huang herself “loves fashion,” so a deal with Dubai-based sustainable streetwear brand The Giving Movement was a huge milestone for her, and a signal that Dime is ready for growth.
Huang said that at the current rate of ambassador application submission, she is hopeful that Dime will be able to reach its goal of onboarding 10,000 ambassadors by the end of the year with the help of an AI solution in the works that will expedite the application review process.
“It’s definitely an exclusive community,” Huang said. “But if we keep growing at this trajectory, there’s definitely a lot of exciting milestones that we can hit. Especially with this technology solution that we’re investing in.”
Dime has raised a pre-seed round of undisclosed value, but Huang said she wants to hold off on additional funding for now.
The company is already taking in five-figures of annual revenue, but more growth requires more ambassadors, which requires more client companies—it’s a chicken-and-egg problem, Huang said.
“We have to grow in every channel at this point,” Huang said. “We have to grow our tech, we have to grow our client base. But we’ve constantly been getting bigger and bigger brands, which is really exciting.”
Dime is ready to expand into new spaces as the Fall 2023 school year approaches, Huang said, and more fundraising may be in the company’s future. But the next big thing on the docket of this young founder is a more personal milestone: Graduation. After Venture Connect, of course.