Cohort VI: Where Are They Now?

Catching Up With Cohort VI One Year Later

Last May, Fellows from optiMize Cohort VI began to work full time on their projects for the summer. With up to $20,000 in funding through project grants and summer fellowship stipends, and mentorship from the optiMize community, these teams had the resources to turn their ideas into impact. Now, one year later, we check back to see the amazing work three of the teams have done!

Drew Metcalf, Creatives of Color


Drew Metcalf wears many hats– optiMize Cohort 6 Summer Fellow, a member of optiMize student staff, and president and founder of the organization Creatives of Color (CoC), a student organization and social networking platform to give artists of color a platform on campus, among them. During the Social Innovation Challenge, Drew and his team of 5 other executive members prototyped CoC by putting on their first showcase and had over 30 members in their student organization. Drew spent his Summer Fellowship building a sustainable structure for the expanding student organization and to prototype the social media platform.

In the past year, CoC has expanded greatly to empower creatives across campus. CoC has built partnerships and hosted events with a number of organizations on campus– Michigan In Color and the Black Student Union among them. The executive board has expanded to 16 and the student organization now has over 100 registered members. Just a month ago, CoC put on their second showcase as one of the first events in the new William Monroe Trotter Multicultural Center. The audience nearly doubled compared to last year, the showcase featured over 30 performers, and the social platform was revealed.

Drew has lead the Creatives of Color team to create a much-needed community for black creatives to display and celebrate their talents, and this community is only growing. As Drew is graduating and will leave the student organization, he is now working to ensure the sustainability and to make the social platform accessible to creatives on campus and beyond. To quote Drew last year, “this project has implications that range from intrapersonal to community-building, to a bridge between creatives of color across the globe.”

Interested in learning more? Read about the Creatives of Color showcase here. Connect with them on Twitter and Instagram.


AJ Estes, RedyWatch

In October 2017, AJ Estes joined the Social Innovation Challenge with a problem he wanted to solve: that people who have experienced traumatic events in their lives frequently face barriers to enjoying everyday activities, such as watching movies. To tackle this problem, AJ and his team spent their time in the Challenge determining the best solution, and created the idea for RedyWatch, a personalized warning system that delivers detailed and objective movie content notices. As Summer Fellows, the RedyWatch team did market research and held interviews with individuals in the communities they hoped to serve in order to refine their idea and create the most inclusive movie watching experience.

By the end of the Fellowship, the RedyWatch team had a clarified idea of what their problem was, how they planned to solve it, and what features they wanted their product to have. They spent the next six months developing three prototypes and conducting three rounds of usability evaluations. This month, a beta version of RedyWatch has launched. This beta version provides information about over fifty different types of content in movies, including details about the intensity and context.

RedyWatch is pioneering a new form of delivering movie content information, prioritizing usability and accommodating a wide range of sensitivities to distressing content. Through this process, AJ has learned about the persistence required in developing a tech project– he noted that while the timeframe has been long, the team’s passion helped drive the project forward. In the next year, AJ hopes to see RedyWatch partnered with multiple movie theatres, to create a reward system for users, and to create an early stage version of machine learning technologies to help with content identification.

Interested in learning more? Connect with RedyWatch and participate in the beta here.


Hunter Phelps, TerryLu Naturals

When Hunter Phelps began her optiMize fellowship last year, she was in the process of prototyping her first product for Terry Lu Naturals. Hunter is the founder of Terry Lu Naturals, a natural hair and skin care company that promotes positive self-image, all-natural ingredients, and healthy hair and skin for all.  It is named after her two grandmothers, Terry and Lucille. As Hunter worked throughout the summer as an optiMize fellow, she rigorously tested and developed her first product, Blessed Butter, a hair and skin butter infused with Mango and Cupuacu Butter, which hit the market in October 2018.

Since the release in October, Hunter has sold hundreds of jars of Blessed Butter via online orders on her website, pop-up shops, and vendor booths. Recently, she was a vendor for the University of Michigan’s EnspiRed and Noir Runway Fashion Shows, and Wayne State University’s Poise Fashion Show. Hunter has built an impressive and growing social media presence through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. This summer, she is participating as a member of TechArb, a student venture accelerator for growing businesses.  Hunter was also selected as one of 23 top collegiate entrepreneurs throughout the country to participate in the prestigious Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) Student Entrepreneur Program in Baltimore this June.

Through her natural hair and skin journey, Hunter realized there are several exotic and natural ingredients that she has chosen to incorporate into her products. She wants to spread awareness of the benefits of these unique natural ingredients. This summer, Hunter will be adding two face masks to her Terry Lu Naturals product line—one for oily skin and one for dry.  As Terry Lu Naturals expands, Hunter will be adding more products to her portfolio to grow her business, while offering her customers natural ingredients that will satisfy her growing customer base.

Interested in learning more? Check out Terry Lu’s website here, or connect with them on Instagram or Twitter.

Thanks for reading! Be sure to stay tuned for more updates on what our current and past Fellows are up to.