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A Media Maven-Turned-Technologist Transforms Setbacks Into Stepping Stones

Candace Walker was always an entrepreneur at heart. She just didn't know it yet.

In her prior life, Walker was a television producer and media executive at major networks BET and TVN. As co-founder of the HBCU Network and her own production company, Walker instinctively built creative solutions whenever she saw the opportunity.

“In my roles I had a lot of autonomy and I was fortunate to always have an entrepreneurial setting,” explains Walker. “I was able to be the decision maker...I was used to driving business.”

But with a shrinking media landscape, Walker’s television show and contract was cut short. In true entrepreneurial fashion, Walker seized a risky opportunity to dive into the startup world. “It was now, or never.”

Family became her inspiration for her first software startup, Earnster. A mother of teens, Walker conceived of a digital platform for teens to earn spending money through household chores and other tasks from parents and trusted adults.

This new take on a classic family problem quickly piqued interest from the startup world, and Walker gained acceptance to an accelerator. In the accelerator's whirlwind, Walker secured a co-founder and found a software firm to code the platform. But despite the initial excitement, Earnster foundered, running into unsustainable technical and funding issues. Once-burned but undeterred, Walker remained resilient.

“I love the startup world,” she says. “When the venture didn't fund and the bottom kinda fell out, it did not dissuade me enough to not try it again.”

Instead, Walker set her mind on learning from setbacks to thrive in the startup environment. With her professional background and growing entrepreneurial portfolio, Walker applied and was accepted into the USC Iovine and Young Academy's Master in Science in Integrated Design, Business and Technology. Walker connected with the program’s “empathy of customer-centric design” philosophy and its tight-knit community of curious, talented, and forward-thinking entrepreneurs.

Empathy is unquestionably at the forefront of Walker's work as an emerging product developer. Since Earnster, Walker received a grant from the California Mental Health Services Authority, and successfully built and launched Jenesse4Hope, an app for the domestic violence shelter, Jenesse Center.

Seeing the quality of work developed by Walker, Charmine Davis, the center’s director of behavioral health, approached Walker and shared her own idea for a mobile app — JUST US. That concept became Walker's first major project at the Academy.

JUST US is a voice-activated mobile app that provides tools for community activism against law enforcement. Walker formed and led a design team of Academy graduate students to take Davis' idea from a concept to the design prototype stage. From there, she tapped a Ukraine-based software firm to engineer the team's design. The app launched in late August, but Walker isn’t one to rest on her laurels.

After seeing the evolution of JUST US as it passed through the Academy's crucible, Walker circled back to her first startup, Earnster. She was eager to refine the original idea and apply what she'd learned in the master’s program.

With Earnster, Walker knew she had to expand the user base beyond parents and teens in the same household. "My own children pointed out, ‘What child is going to use an app to talk to their parents?’” she recalls. “They're going to go into their room and say, ‘Hey, can I have twenty bucks?’”

Now her capstone project, Earnster pivoted to become GenerationConnect, connecting teens with seniors. With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day -- many of whom are divorced, live alone or want to age-in-place -- there is an ever-growing group of seniors who need assistance with everyday tasks that perfectly fit teens' skill level.

Now in its second life, GenerationConnect has already hit the ground running. Walker is launching a virtual pilot with the City of Inglewood, connecting their municipal senior program with two local area high schools. GenerationConnect will allow teens to offer tech support services; play online videogames with interested seniors; and bond over common interests. Walker hopes that GenerationConnect will not only teach each generation new skills, but promote mutual understanding between generations.

As for Walker herself? From television studio to technology startup, this born entrepreneur keeps spinning setbacks into new opportunities for success.

“I’m a risk-taker at heart,” says Walker. “And I’m getting better at calculating smart risks.”