Jared Levinson
Former Intern, Strategic Communications, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


August 08, 2019


One of the constant challenges for business is understanding the next generation of consumers and how to connect with them – this is particularly true of Gen Z consumers. Each generation has unique characteristics that shape how they consume content and how they engage with brands. To capture the attention of Gen Z, the first generation of Americans that doesn't know a world without the internet, brands need visually compelling, digital first content that align with the way this digitally savvy group consumes content.

So, what is the best way for brands to bridge this gap? Tap into the creativity of the Gen Z population by hiring them as content creators. That is the thought behind 22-year-old Kelsey Davis’s company CLLCTVE, which provides a platform for creatives to connect with today’s brands. Davis, a Syracuse University student and Atlanta native, is harnessing the innovation Gen Z has to offer businesses today by providing a way for companies to connect with this next generation of creatives – and making sure their unique point of view is represented in brand content. Additionally, her company is helping these young artists connect with fellow creatives and create a network that could potentially help them launch their own businesses one day.

We had a chance to sit down with Davis and her business partner, Brendan O’Keeffe, to talk about the work CLLCTVE is doing to transform the way digital content is sourced. Here is what she had to say:

Q: Tell us a bit about your business and why you started it.

A: The concept for CLLCTVE came to me while I was trying to pursue academic endeavors and professional opportunities simultaneously as an undergraduate student at Syracuse University. What originally started as me just producing music videos for my friends back in high school in Atlanta, quickly turned into hundreds of client meetings, dozens of business trips, and dozens of shoots with Grammy Nominated Artists and globally recognized brands by my sophomore year of college.

Although I was getting modern day, real-world experience by traveling across the world as an emerging influencer producing content for some of my favorite artists and brands, I was struggling substantially when it came to traditional academics. After struggling to complete my sophomore year, my own insecurities surrounding my academic capabilities led me to believe that the only way I could truly accomplish my career goals was to drop out of school completely.

Upon returning to school in the fall of my junior year, my school, the SI Newhouse School of Public Communications, encouraged me to forcibly dive into research on the creative collegiate market to gain a more entrepreneurial understanding of how non-traditional students like myself can be more successful in an academic environment. During my research, I identified a large market of underserved and underrepresented students who are innovative leaders and entrepreneurial-minded content creators. I also realized that brands across the country are searching high and low for original content that reaches the Gen Z market with parallel voice. Additionally, many creatives desperately are in need of a resource that develops their skills, connects them with jobs, and ensures their academic success – all at the same time. After countless ideations, testing, and iterations surrounding the findings in this research, CLLCTVE was born.

We realized the solution to this problem was to reinvent the wheel of the traditional agency model by building a user-generated content platform by Gen Z, and for Gen Z – allowing the market to feed itself. Our vision is to empower the next generation of creatives by developing and scaling our own network of collegiate creatives through our online exclusive social platform. Our community of collegiate creatives serves as the voice of the consumer that brand clients are aiming to reach by offering creative solutions to brands in need of exclusive data, insights, and content pertaining to Gen Z. This positions CLLCTVE to serve a double-sided marketplace that is focused primarily around Gen Z producers and consumers. While creative agencies, production companies, and freelance marketplaces already exist, none of these entities serve as a one-stop-shop where Gen Z consumers and Gen Z brand marketers can be informed and empowered in order to achieve their goals.


Q: Have you had any mentorship or a business network to help you start your company?

A: To name a few organizations… Syracuse University Blackstone Launchpad, Syracuse Tech Garden, SI Newhouse School of Public Communications, Whitman School of Management, and Adam and Amy Fazackerley from Lay-n-Go.

Q: What are the biggest challenges to starting a business at a younger age?

My biggest challenge to starting a business at a younger age is that you don’t know what you don’t know, until you have to know it. This is why I’m constantly reading books, seeking guidance, taking courses, and talking to mentors. Although age can make you an underdog, being a young Gen Z CEO gives me room to be more innovative and flexible, giving me the perfect opportunity to grow exponentially.

Q: How familiar with business were you prior to starting your company?

A: My father is a vice president of sales at CNN, and my mom is an accountant, so I was exposed to business at a very young age. They encouraged me to merge my passion for creative production with business, so I navigated this synergy throughout college, and CLLCTVE was born in the midst of that.

I graduated from SU’s SI Newhouse School of Public Communications in May, and I will begin pursuing my masters of entrepreneurship from SU’s Whitman School of Management in August. Syracuse University definitely gave me a holistic understanding of business, and taught me how it integrates with media and technology in a scalable way.

Q: Were there any new skills you had to learn?

A: I’m constantly learning new skills every day. That’s the beauty about entrepreneurship. I’m always in new situations that present new problems, so I have to continuously search outside of myself and learn new skills to know how to create new solutions. These skills range from hard skills like agile development and design thinking, to soft skills like leadership and discipline.

Q: What impact has running your own business had on your life thus far?

A: Running a business has taught me how to troubleshoot and make decisions faster and more efficiently in my personal life. It allows me to evaluate my personal life from a more objective and goal-oriented lens, encouraging me to set up the systems I need in my daily life to succeed.

Q: What advice would you give to any other younger entrepreneurs who are considering starting their own business?

A:​ ​I’m a big fan of just getting up and doing it. So often we try to clean ourselves up first, or say we need to fix "XYZ" before launching something or creating something to show the world. But oftentimes, we stunt our own growth with this way of thinking. It’s super important to just go out and do it. Go out, release a product – it’s probably going to suck. Pray that it sucks, pray that you get feedback, then get up and go figure out how to make that thing better. The first product you put out is never going to be your best product. If you wait forever to put out your first thing, it’s going to continue to prolong the process. It’s important to make mistakes, because the quicker you fail, the sooner you’re going to succeed.

Q: How do you perceive small business in our generation today? And how do you think others our age think of business?

A: Gen Z has a different view on small business than our parents, because we grew up during a time where big businesses and local businesses were failing in comparison to startups and technology companies. As a generation that was practically raised on the internet, we built our communities online instead of outside. So in order for small businesses to succeed in 2020 and beyond, business owners have to start thinking like their younger consumers – focusing on building their presence in a variety of channels.

Q: In your experience, what do you think the future of business looks like for the next generation?

A: The future of business is Gen Z. The companies that will have long-term value will be companies focused on empowering their young consumers, not merely “selling.” By 2021, the content marketing industry is projected to be worth over $400 billion. Of this content, 48% is being consumed by Gen Z. The bargaining power has shifted from the agency to the consumer directly. The corporate structure of large agency models prevents companies from measuring and iterating their content to reach the Gen Z market. This is why CLLCTVE is so important. We are able to bridge the gap between Gen Z consumers and brands by growing our own network of creatives, enabling them to produce high quality content for brands they know and love.

With Davis’s company, other young, creative entrepreneurs are learning how to market their skills earlier in their careers – giving them the tools to become business owners themselves, but also supplying brands with a better understanding of the next generation of consumers. With CLLCTVE, Davis is ensuring the widespread availability of digital art to all and giving a voice to the creativity Gen Z has to offer.

The U.S. Chamber’s Young Entrepreneur Series will continue to highlight businesses, like CLLCTVE, that are harnessing creative solutions to make a positive impact on the world. Check out other young entrepreneurs in the series, here.

About the authors

Jared Levinson

Jared Levinson is former intern for the Strategic Communications team at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.