Sophomore business management major Kenard Holmes recently returned to the South Carolina State University campus from a trip to Chicago with a big check in hand.

The Beaufort native was part of the 1st-place team in the Thurgood Marshall College Fund 2022 Stanley Black & Decker Innovation Challenge, which came with a $10,000 prize. As one of four students on the team, he received $2,500.

Oct. 20-23, Holmes and other students from historically Black colleges and universities and predominantly Black institutions gathered in Chicago to tackle real-world challenges in business and present innovative solutions to expert judges.

“I think representation is very important, not just in being from HBCUs or being an African American,” Holmes said. “When I go out to these places, I represent my family (and) my university. I represent a lot of people when I go out to these things, so it’s truly an honor and a privilege, and I want to continue to represent my university.”

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TMCF’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Division teamed up with Stanley Black & Decker, Lowe’s and Steelcase to develop the business pitch competition.

Holmes and teammates from Alabama State University, Alabama Agricultural & Mechanical University and Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University were tasked with offering a solution for deficiencies in Lowe’s product return system. They came up with a solution using artificial intelligence.

“In the past, it’s been difficult to return things, especially through the app,” Holmes said. “We came up with ‘KEVIN,’ which stands for ‘Kinetic E-commerce Virtual Intelligence Network.’”

Holmes came away with more than his $2,500 share of the prize.

“I learned a lot of team-building skills,” he said. “We were all kind of headstrong and had our own ideas. There was never an argument, but we were all so confident in our own ideas, so it was difficult to settle on one thing.”

An adviser helped the team develop consensus.

“There was an idea that we could all build upon and add to,” Holmes said. “I had to be adaptable with other people who are also leaders. It was just as important to be a good follower.”

Holmes’s relationship with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund has been growing during his matriculation at SC State. Over the summer, a TMCF program provided him a tour of a Boeing Company facility in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he hopes to land an internship in 2023.

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At SC State, Holmes has embedded himself in campus traditions and groups, including serving as a student orientation leader, being a Dr. Emily England Clyburn Honors College scholar and holding membership in the 101 Black Men peer mentoring organization.

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