More than two hundred young men of color from Los Angeles, Oakland, Houston, and Chicago are currently enrolled in Project ECHO’s entrepreneurship program that will culminate in a Shark Tank style pitch competition. Project ECHO, in partnership with JP Morgan Chases’ The Fellowship Initiative, has expanded from its current partnership in Los Angeles to now include Oakland, Chicago, and Dallas. Through this collaboration, Project ECHO is able to bring entrepreneurship into communities where it has not been available, and broaden the knowledge and skillsets of hundreds of young men.
The Fellowship Initiative provides comprehensive and hands-on academic, social, and emotional support to young men of color in high school. They are partnered with JP Morgan managers who serve as mentors and additionally receive academic support, leadership development, and an abundance of resources to ensure they are prepared for college and career success. And now these teens are experiencing entrepreneurship and learning business skills as they prepare for college admissions and future career paths.
“Teens are separated into small groups as they form their businesses, and they take on C-suite roles,” Terrance Edmond, Project ECHO’s Houston teacher explains. “Each team has a Chief Executive Officer, a Chief Operating Officer, a Chief Financial Officer, etc. And every single day, all of those executives are conducting research for their businesses and creating reports for their company, and working together on a slide deck in preparation for the Shark-Tank style pitch competition. Every student is fully immersed in that experience.”
The competition and the program work together to help these young students get resources and form relationships they may not have had otherwise. Molly Katz, the regional program manager in Los Angeles, says she emphasizes two things when it comes to talking about the program: exposure, and access.
“TFI gives the opportunity to go to college campuses, build their network, build relationships with mentors, and do career exposure research so they can see other Black and Brown entrepreneurs who have achieved success in their fields,” Katz says. “Seeing all of this, they can make the best decision for themselves and not have a decision made for them when it comes to their futures.”
With this program, Project ECHO is encouraging students to think about their own needs and the needs of their community, by planning a unique business that can help other people in the world. Obasi Davis, the Oakland program manager, says that just the process alone is worthwhile to his students.
“It’s important to have an idea and really believe in it and grow your teamwork so the group believes in it as well,” Davis explains. “It’s also important to get experience talking in front of crowds, which helps students begin to trust their own voices.”
The TFI teens from Oakland, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Chicago will compete at the National TFI Showcase event on April 30th, and again in May at Project ECHO’s High School Entrepreneurs’ Business Plan Competition. Both events offer cash start-up funds (aka college scholarships) in addition to major bragging rights. To learn more, or to tune in to the competitions, visit www.projectecho.org