OPPORTUNITY NOW | PARTNERING WITH NASHVILLE TEENS TO DEVELOP SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURS

This summer, the TFC was fortunate to host two Vanderbilt undergraduate interns, Oren Burks ’17 and Roberto Colon ’18, who share a passion for business and seeing young people and communities thrive. When an opportunity to put their passion into action working with youth and social entrepreneurship arose, Oren and Roberto met it with eagerness. Oren and Roberto facilitated a partnership with twenty-one high school students engaged in Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s Opportunity NOW youth employment initiative.

Metro Nashville Public School teachers, Jose Onate (Cane Ridge High School) and Molly Goss (Overton High School), led this cohort of students from the Antioch area (primarily Cane Ridge High School students), with the goal of creating meaningful learning opportunities, for which the students were compensated through Opportunity NOW. Many of the students were first generation immigrants, and many weren’t confident that they knew what entrepreneurship was or whether or not they could create a business solution to make things better for themselves or their community.  Partnering with their teachers, Oren, Roberto, and the TFC staff helped coordinate a four-week experience for the students to explore and experience social entrepreneurship.

Given the challenge: Identify a problem in your community
– the teens worked through an ideation session with Mario Avila, TFC Director, to identify and prioritize the most pressing issues they saw in their community. The group identified transit, education, employment / lack of job preparation for immigrants, and gentrification.

Throughout the next month, students, led by their teachers andsupported by Oren and Roberto, explored their own neighborhood, as well as various communities in Nashville to better understand the issues they were seeking to solve. They visited with businesses and business owners, included Clint Gray of Slim ‘N Husky’s Pizza who spoke honestly with them about being a business leader in a gentrifying neighborhood. Students had the opportunity to tour Lyft’s offices with General Manager, Sam Nadler, and learn from the Oasis Center’s Oasis Venture and Mayor’s Youth Council Director, Brandon Hill.

In mid-July, Oren facilitated the students’ pitch competition as the Wond’ry at Vanderbilt. Each team presented their business idea to a panel of judges, including Brandon Hill from the Oasis Center, Hilary Taft from Opportunity NOW and the Nashville Career Advancement Center, Jocelyn Youngdahl from the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, and Abigale Jasinsky, TFC Alumna and leader for Build Sisu.

Nashville’s Mayor Megan Barry set out with the bold goal of employing 10,000 youth over time through the Opportunity NOW initiative, motivated by both a desire to create meaningful employment opportunities for youth, and an effort to reduce youth violence and crime by engaging youth productively in the city. According to the Tennessean, at least 2,000 young people participated in Opportunity NOW this summer. “Opportunity NOW w

as born out of discussions to address youth violence, and its organizers have expanded its ambitions to serve as a long-term economic development catalyst for the city.” (McGee, June 2017. http://www.tennessean.com/story/money/2017/06/16/need-better/381451001/)

The TFC is created to be led by students and grow strong leaders with social impact. Oren Burks, who plays for Vanderbilt’s football team and serves as the team’s captain, is focused on leadership full time. His invitation to the high school students into the Vanderbilt Athletics center became a way for him to share how business shapes his team and his university experience for good. Roberto, originally from New York City, has a passion for learning about and fostering immigrant entrepreneurship. After his time with the teens in Opportunity NOW and the TFC, he went on to serve the latter half of his summer as an intern at Impact Hub in New York City. This partnership and experience represents the best of the TFC – creating space for student leaders to create space for others to learn and thrive through business.

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