Jason McIntosh and Mitch Nelson introduced themselves in a conference room with two bean bag chairs, a long table and five pairs of socks planted in the middle. After getting acquainted, Jason reached towards the middle of the table, grabbed a pair of blue-toed socks, and began to tell the story of DivvyUp Socks, a Tallahassee-based e-commerce startup.
In their sophomore year at Florida State University, Jason and Mitch brainstormed business ideas for their entrepreneurship class. From the start, they wanted to work on something that gave back to a community. They began with the idea of shipping tents to places around the world affected by natural disasters. After further planning and brainstorming, however, they realized that to make a change, they needed to start with their own backyard—Tallahassee. They took a trip to a local homeless shelter, where they learned of the widespread need for fresh, clean socks.
Soon after, the first version of DivvyUp Socks was born. DivvyUp is a one-for-one business that, for every sock purchased, donates a pair of socks to a homeless shelter. In the company’s first two years, Jason and Mitch resold socks sourced from other companies, but, with the recent launch of DivvyUp 2.0, on the 25th of every month a new 3-pack of themed socks personally designed by Jason and Mitch releases on their website.
Companies that directly aid the community of Tallahassee the way DivvyUp does are important to the growth of the city. They work to solve a problem by creating a sustainable business instead of another one-off fundraiser. Jay Revell, the vice president of the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce and FSU alumnus, says, “We need more of that. The good news is there are plenty of problems that need to be solved. So I would say there is ample opportunity for stories like this to benefit the economic health of the community.”
Mitch Nelson also believes in the value DivvyUp brings to Tallahassee. “You don’t have to only make money,” he explains. “Making real change by creating a business and not solely relying on donations creates more value than profit. Making $400 off of socks and then donating the money would end the service right there. By making more money we are able to donate more socks.” As a result, businesses like DivvyUp plant a cycle of growth.
However, simultaneously helping the community and economy is not DivvyUp’s only success. DivvyUp is also an example of the blank canvas Tallahassee offers. Jay Revell explains, “If you are looking for a 9-5 plug-in, plug-out job with a cubicle near the freeway, this is not the city for you. But it you believe you have an edge, a hunger and a desire to change the world, Tallahassee is one of the best cities in the country for you to be in.”
Through Jay’s entrepreneurial experience with the Downtown Improvement Authority, he says every major business player in Florida is in Tallahassee, so the resources and networking can be endless. Tallahassee’s small size creates an intimate environment not typically found in cities like Miami, San Francisco or Atlanta. This accelerates local networking. “More access, more opportunity, less traffic and less costly,” Revell says. “You can build your dream here for half the price and in half the time.”
Mitch describes Tallahassee’s startup culture as young, but trending upward. “It’s been underground for a long time, but with places like the Domi Station that push startups in the direction they need to succeed, it’s very helpful.” He and Jason discuss the recent growth of Gaines Street over the past four years. “It’s cool to see young people go out there and get involved,” they say. However, Jason notices that a lot of things need to change in Tallahassee to make it easier for businesses to thrive. “There needs to be more overall access in Tallahassee starting with cheaper air flights.”
Tallahassee is growing, slowly and surely thanks in no small part to the melting pot of ambitious students at Florida State University, Florida A&M University, and Tallahassee Community College. Jason says that studying at FSU and building his startup business was “tough, but manageable because of all the free time college offers.” Often young people see entrepreneurship as something to pursue in later years, but that does not have to be the case, with barriers to entry lower than ever. Jason and Mitch each invested $800 in their sophomore year to create DivvyUp.
“Not too long ago, Domi Station was an empty warehouse where we would share ideas and it’s cool to see how much its grown,” Jason says as he and Mitch wrap up the story of their signature blue-toed socks. Similarly, DivvyUp has grown over the past two years. It now reaches homeless shelters not only in Tallahassee but across Florida and in states like Texas, New York, and Kentucky. Tallahassee’s startup culture is still in its infancy, but, with fertile grounds and cultivation, the city has already begun to bloom—and the results are going to be grand.