Student-led startup tackling key social issues

The YouMatter Studios team includes (from left to right) Sanskriti Khurana, Adia Ivey, Daja Wilson, Jewel Ifeguni, Vignesh Sivaguru, Deborah Agoye, and Jake Pisarski.
The YouMatter Studios team includes (from left to right) Sanskriti Khurana, Adia Ivey, Daja Wilson, Jewel Ifeguni, Vignesh Sivaguru, Deborah Agoye, and Jake Pisarski.

A student-led startup at the University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business is tackling an important social issue head-on.

YouMatter Studios, which will celebrate its two-year anniversary on Jan. 1, 2019, is producing a virtual reality film to address relations between law enforcement and marginalized groups.

The film’s working title is “The Drive,” and they’re holding a casting call for actors from Nov. 26-30. Producers hope to finish the 10 minute long film by the end of February, which is Black History Month

“We wanted to tackle the relationships between police and marginalized communities to take the next steps toward healing,” said YouMatter Studios founder and “The Drive” co-producer Jewel Ifeguni, a Naperville, Illinois native and Metea Valley High School graduate.

YouMatter Studios is part of the the iVenture Accelerator, a program run out of University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business and open to all U of I students. The iVenture Accelerator supports student-led startups with knowledge, funding, and access to world-class University of Illinois resources and alumni.

“The iVenture Accelerator helped lead us more down a business path,” said Ifeguni, 21, a senior in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “It also led to many connections, helped develop a business mindset, and gained exposure for our business. We had many pitching events, and I still maintain those connections today.”

The DriveYouMatter Studios previously raised $5,000, which enabled Ifeguni to buy editing equipment, and the venture recently debuted a $10,000 fundraiser for virtual reality filming equipment.

“The Drive” will focus on the perspective of three characters – a police officer, a young black student driver, and the student’s mother – through the re-enactment of a routine traffic stop.

Co-producer Adia Ivey, a senior in Illinois’ College of Media, said the main goal of the film is to help “bring communities together through empathetic media and facilitated workshops.”

“This could really start some important discussions about the social structures that perpetuate these events,” said Ivey, 22, an Oak Park native and Oak Park and River Forest High School graduate. “We want to put the audience in someone else’s shoes. It’s not to make ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys,’ but to start a constructive discussion in working to understand the reality of this serious issue. This film intertwines humanities with STEM skills and is a great step for YouMatter Studios in making complex media representation for marginalized voices.”

But that important message won’t be isolated only to television screens. After the film debuts, Ifeguni and Ivey both said YouMatter Studios wants to hold on-campus panel discussions that include members of the University of Illinois police department.

YouMatter Studios began as a gaming company almost two years ago to address the underrepresentation of minorities in video games. But the company has evolved into one that features virtual reality and traditional film production, educational workshops, and web series.

“The company has just evolved into an overall media company, and the next step is this VR film,” Ifeguni said. “VR will be great for this project because it will start discussions and expose communities to this type of technology.”