CEC’s Future Founders Program Helps Develop the Next Generation of Successful Entrepreneurs in Economically Disadvantaged Communities
A student team from Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy took top honors at the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center’s (CEC) citywide business plan competition for teenage entrepreneurs, held May 9 at ESPN Zone. LaDonna Watts and Brittney Maye won the competition with their “Pocket Socks” business, which creates fashionable, hand made socks with a sewn-in pocket for people who want extra security when carrying valuables.
The competition was the culminating event for the CEC’s Future Founders program. Launched with the sponsorship of the Motorola Foundation and in partnership with the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), Future Founders brings young, successful entrepreneurs into high school classrooms in some of the city’s most underserved communities. With the aid and mentorship of these entrepreneurs, students brainstorm ideas for their own businesses and develop real business plans over the course of the school year.
At the end of the year, students with the most interest and drive are awarded paid internships at a mentor’s company — an opportunity not only to complement their experience, but also to stay in contact with their mentors.
“Future Founders is like no other entrepreneurial education program. It puts high school students in direct contact with passionate, young and successful entrepreneurs — who then become mentors to these kids,” said Jim O’Connor, Jr., vice president, Early Stage Accelerator at Motorola and co-chair of the CEC. “At Motorola, we recognize both the caliber of entrepreneurial talent in the City of Chicago and the importance of supporting programs like Future Founders that help the next generation of entrepreneurs realize their potential at an early age.”
Partnering with three high schools in its first year — Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep, Dunbar Vocational Academy, and North Lawndale College Prep — the CEC’s Future Founders program helped more than 70 students brainstorm their own business ideas and develop viable business plans.
“The CEC created this program as a way for entrepreneurs to give back to some of the city’s most underserved areas and to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs to fuel economic growth in these communities,” said David Weinstein, CEC president. “In its first year, Future Founders is off to a great start, and we look forward to continuing and growing the program in the coming years.”
Watts and Maye developed “Pocket Socks” after conducting research among their friends, family, and peers to determine a product or service that is missing in the marketplace. “We noticed a rising trend of people losing important personal belongings, things like money, keys, cell phones and MP3 players,” said Watts. “We developed pocket socks to deal with this sore spot in the marketplace.”
Future Founders students presented comprehensive business plans for a variety of products and services. North Lawndale College Prep students Leland Lenon and Brandon Lipscomb presented “Windy City Kicks,” a business that buys large quantities of basketball shoes at wholesale prices, allowing them to offer popular shoes at more affordable prices. Jacques Edwards, Stacy Greer and Holly Hunter from Dunbar Vocational Academy founded “Financial Aid Advocates,” which specializes in helping high school students secure funding for college.
“The Motorola Foundation is proud to support projects like this that link creativity, innovation, and business skills with our community outreach and employee involvement. Future Founders does all that,” said Eileen Sweeney, director of Corporate and Foundation Philanthropic Relations for Motorola.
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