Two Birds, One Backpack: Back to School and Packing Up Poverty with PAX

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Pax Backpacks is about to go live. Slated for sales launch Monday, August 5, the for-profit backpack company with a conscience is the entrepreneurial brainchild of Joe Morrison ’14.

“This backpack is super simple and super durable,” says Morrison. “You’re making an investment. This bag is going to last a long, long time.”

Morrison hopes the good that his fledgling company creates will last a long time, too. He will donate 22 percent of profits to Citizens Schools, a non-profit operating in locations in North Carolina and a handful of other states, dedicated to bridging the educational “opportunity gap” with resources and programming in high-poverty schools. Why 22 percent?

“That’s the percentage of children in the U.S. who live under the federal poverty level. That’s more than 16 million kids,” says Morrison. The Pax Backpacks website launched today, Friday, amid a blitz of social media including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Pre-ordering begins Monday on

Morrison’s confidence in his product and business plan springs from the launchpad of the Davidson College Venture Lab, a new start-up incubator designed to accelerate the development of Davidson’s aspiring entrepreneurs through experiential education. The program’s other inaugural student participant is Tori Mayernick ’14, founder of Hives for Lives (H4L), a student run non-profit that sells local, natural honey to raise money for cancer research.

Joe Morrison ’14 in Venice, while traveling after a semester studying abroad in Ireland: “If only I’d had a Pax backpack then….”

Morrison’s passion for the social justice component of his Pax Backpacks business model springs from another seminal Davidson experience, his community service as a freshman Bonner Scholar tutoring and mentoring after-school students at the Ada Jenkins Community Center in Davidson.

“There was this one kid who had a lot of challenges in his life: behavioral problems, parental absence, learning disability, poverty, failing courses. It was exhausting and frustrating,” Joe said. Over the course of that year, Joe saw the trust that he and the student developed lay a foundation for the young student’s progress. “One thing that works above everything else is long-term relationships.”

Even so, the student’s home situation changed and he was lost from Joe’s sight. “Not knowing how [he’s] doing right now motivates me to help other third-graders get the structured support and relationships they need,” Morrison said.

He believes that doing good and doing well in a for-profit environment is the coming way of the business world he’s already entering, even before graduation. “To be recognized as a new business today, you have to have a social or environmental component that’s not just a throwaway,” he says.

At the same time, the bottom line is the bottom line: “In the end, I don’t care so much about people’s motivation, I just want to see results. I care what you’re doing and I care what impact that’s having.”

It’s all in the company tagline: “Pax Backpacks—Pack up poverty.”

• Read more about Morrison’s and Mayernick’s work with Venture Labs.

• Read more about Mayernick’s work with Hives for Lives in the Fall 2013 Davidson Journal feature story, Bee-Havior Modification.


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