April 04, 2014

Khalid David ’10SEAS is Engineering Entreprenurship

Khalid David, ‘10SEAS, is not feeling the pressure. He has a few weeks left to achieve the ambitious feat of raising $10,000 for Bunkers Hill Construction, the company he started three years ago in his basement. He kicked off a crowd funding campaign on SmallKnot with the goal of raising funds to develop a “toolbox” so the company can continue working on projects in various communities including Harlem. He is also seeking to secure space in Harlem Garage.

Launching a crowdsourcing campaign to support a young business this size may seem to be a reach, but finding unlikely success has been a theme in his life.

“I’ve always been on the winning side of risk,” he says confidently. Khalid is the first-generation son of working class parents. He earned two bachelor’s degrees in five years as part of the Columbia Combined Program. He holds a B.S. in Applied Physics from Morehouse College and a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Columbia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS).

While many young engineers were looking to forge a pre-MBA career path, Khalid stuck with his passion. “I didn’t want to work on Wall Street like some people,” he says. “Good money, good career, but not for me.

The Bunkers Hill campaign video:

“When you’re young gifted and black you got to be willing to understand that however it happens for you it’s going to be unorthodox. You are never going to fit into the traditional success model.”

However, three years ago, Khalid graduated into the Great Recession—an economy that was rough on even the brightest most credentialed college graduate.  He was searching for a project engineer opportunity in construction but found difficulty despite his experience working for the biggest names in the industry including Turner Construction and Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton.

“That process was demoralizing,” he said of applying for jobs. “I got tired of feeling like somebody else had control over my value and worth. I got tired of that and felt like I can control my value and my worth.”

After several months of enduring rejection he decided to try to create his own opportunity. He reconnected with the root of his passion and his faith.

“Construction is something that I love. It is something that I am. It is something I feel like I’ve been groomed to be the absolute best at.”

As prayer would have it, Khalid’s uncle, an experienced carpenter, was looking to bid on a project for a church to convert a residential building into office units that met the demands of a modern commercial space.  Khalid developed a detailed estimate and quality breakdown that was chosen and soon he found the encouragement he needed.

“To see $30,000 pass through my business account in the first month made me think, that if I could master this skillset, I could be in business for myself.” He then founded Bunkers Hill Construction and has since secured a number of projects providing interior renovations for commercial and residential spaces, mainly in his home of Mount Vernon and in the Harlem community.

KhalidDavid SEAS Miner 20131115

(Khalid David with SEAS Miner at Mudd/ Photography by Michael Rain)

Reaching out to his networks and his communities is Khalid’s plan for how he will pull off a successful crowdsourcing campaign. He is an active alumnus in the Columbia entrepreneurial community and the larger HBCU network.

He notes and reveres the guidance of his mentors, Bruce Lincoln, former entrepreneur-in-residence at SEAS and current senior fellow at Columbia Institute for Tele-Information as well as Chris McGarry the director for entrepreneurship for Columbia Entrepreneurship.

Khalid is hoping the places where he cultivated his managerial skills will embrace and support him with his initiative. Khalid served in leadership positions for National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) chapters at Morehouse and Columbia and was elected vice president of Black Student Organization (BSO).

More generally, Khalid thinks crowdsourcing is an ideal method for black entrepreneurs who do not have access to deep pockets or a pipeline to VC’s. He believes the platform will provide a simple method for entrepreneurs to collect a wide base of support from groups of people who can give in small amounts.

Instead of copying the well-noted models of startup ventures, Khalid seeks to tweak and experiment with a variety of approaches. He acknowledges that the road to progress is going to be a different path for a person of color.

He advises, “When you’re young gifted and black you got to be willing to understand that however it happens for you it’s going to be unorthodox. You are never going to fit into the traditional success model.”


Michael Rain is the communication chair for the BAC. He can be reached at [email protected].

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