Carpe Donut looks to expand with help of new crowd-funding platform

With the help of a team of students from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville’s Carpe Donut is preparing to expand with a new red truck serving its brand of “organic comfort food.”

A student enterprise called Seed-ville is launching a crowd-funding platform today to help owner Matt Rohdie raise $15,000 in 40 days to equip a truck with hand-crafted artistic flare and all the accoutrements needed for donut production.

“The pitch to the community is that Carpe Donut is ready to expand,” Rohdie said. “We want to get our first donut truck operating in another community, and I have several buyers that are quite interested in this.”

“We need some operating capital to get the project off the ground,” Rohdie said.

Anyone who has sampled Rohdie’s product since 2007 can attest to the fact he probably has a lot hungry fans who will be interested in fueling his expansion.

One of those is Jessica Lee, a second-year student in computer science. Lee and three other students created Seed-ville, a website facilitating “reward-based crowd funding” for small local businesses.

“People are excited about giving back to local businesses,” Lee said. “With Seed-ville, if you contribute to a project and back a business, you get something in return.”

“It could be free donuts in Carpe’s case, or renting out the whole food truck,” Lee said. “Cool experiences you wouldn’t otherwise get, and you are supporting small businesses in Charlottesville.”

When compared with the popular crowd-funding site Kickstarter, Lee said Seed-ville is more locally focused and will provide more hands-on support to its customers.

“Kickstarter is very broad and focused on creativity, film and artists that want funding,” Lee said. “We want to focus on small businesses. We want to mentor small businesses through this crowd-funding process.”

Like Kickstarter, Seed-ville will take a commission from each online contribution.

Lee took a entrepreneurship class in her first year and spent this past summer interviewing small-business owners looking for a pilot project. That’s how she met Rohdie and Carpe Donut.

“She found me,” Rohdie said. “I have a strong belief that when I see somebody trying to do something cool in the world, something positive, like these UVa students, I am more than happy to work with them.”

Richard D. Crawford, a UVa law school professor and one of Lee’s entrepreneurship teachers, noted his student has “seized the day, carpe diem” with her team’s crowd-funding project.

Carpe Donut’s Grumman P30 step van

“I think it’s going to be a major method for small businesses, particularly the type that will never be the Microsofts of the future,” Crawford said. “It will be the way they get funded increasingly.”

Crawford notes that new laws soon will allow anyone to become equity investors in start-up companies via even small online contributions. In April, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Virginia, helped to sponsor the Jobs Act, which also had the support of Rep. Eric I. Cantor, R-7th, and is intended to help startup companies raise capital.

“This law will allow use of online solicitation for small businesses on a much bigger scale than what is allowed under today’s securities laws,” Crawford said. “Anyone will soon be able to invest in a small start-up around Charlottesville, but today there are some serious restrictions to use of the Internet to communicate with sources of funds.”

Rohdie already has made some preparations in anticipation of a successful Seed-ville campaign. A Grumman P30 step van originally customized for use at Naval Station Norfolk is sitting at a local gas station waiting for a tune-up. An $8,000 Belshaw Mark II “donut robot” is all lined up for purchase.

“I don’t think we could have successfully incubated Carpe Donut in most other communities,” Rohdie said when asked about the impact of Charlottesville on his business. “It’s a certain kind of smaller community that leaves room for micro-entrepreneurs …. In other places, I am not sure I would have gotten the same community response.”

“He is really successful and doing really well,” Lee said of the donut master. “This will give his business a real boost.”

Contributions can be made to Carpe Donut at .