NYLP: Welcome to a special episode of the New York Launch Pod where we followed a program called the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, or NFTE as they call it.
Abedin Kadir: My name is Abedin Kadir and I’m the president.
Becky Yang: My name is Becky Yang, I’m the operations officer.
Winston Gong: My name is Winston Gong and I’m the lead engineer.
Savion Johnson: Hello, my name is Savion Johnson and I’m the data analyst.
Samuel Henry: Hi. My name is Samuel Henry and I’m the marketing officer.
NYLP: Those voices you just heard are some of the students who are part of the program, pitching during their final demo day and it’s a culmination of a summer’s worth of hard work. We went to see what was going on at NFTE and we were blown away. NFTE is an organization that teaches entrepreneurship to low income high school students in urban communities. This is the story about those who are under-represented in the entrepreneurship world that don’t necessarily capture the headlines, but are important nonetheless.
In this episode, we follow students through their journey through a summer at NFTE. Hearing about what learning entrepreneurship means to those students who participate in the program. How do they learn about everything that comes with the study of entrepreneurship like finding a business idea, getting it off the ground and dealing with a situation that might not have gone as planned? Keep listening because that’s all in this episode.
So what is this program? Here’s Zvia Schoenberg, director of the New York Metro region.
Zvia Schoenberg: The curriculum in the summer program is an intensive hands on, eight week program where students have the opportunity to test their ideas and really, actually earn revenue for the first time.
NYLP: And here’s Tess Gardephe, senior manager explaining how students apply what they learn over the summer.
Tess Gardephe: All of the students go through problem solving techniques where they recognize the difference between a business idea and a business opportunity. So they recognize, oh, if I don’t have an edge, like a competitive advantage than my idea is really not a true opportunity. Or if I don’t have a market that’s willing to pay this price, then I won’t be successful. So it’s a lot of recognizing how to do deal with failures, which I think a lot of adults I know still don’t how to manage that.
NYLP: Who are the students who are participating in the NFTE? They are motivated, bright and on the free reduced school lunch program. Here’s Tess Gardephe again.
Tess Gardephe: We do have a mission to only serve students who qualify for free and reduced lunch at school and then we ask for teacher recommendation forms and essay questions. So we are looking for students that have a big interest in entrepreneurship and then they have teacher that can vie for them.
NYLP: We can often think about entrepreneurship in a lofty way. The entrepreneurs that raise millions of dollars in capital and the flashy stories that hit the press following these companies. You can get lost in these stories and thinking, why take risks in ventures that may or may not succeed. Is this the best way to teach students? You think that and have that doubt, like I did, until you hear Zvia Schoenberg explain why teaching entrepreneurship is important and the students talk about the impact.
Zvia Schoenberg: For many of them, it changes their life. They never before, were given the space to actually come up with an idea, to validate it, and to actually earn revenue and be able to take it with them for the rest of their lives. And in addition to having a business, they develop skills that they use in every other aspect of their life and you can tell the impact it’s had, because these kids stay attached to NFTE. They want to stay involved. They want to mentor other kids. They want to do whatever they can to help NFTE and it’s amazing to see.
NYLP: How have you seen some improvements in some of the students?
Zvia Schoenberg: Some of them we’ve seen had no interest in entrepreneurship, were scared of public speaking, didn’t know what product or service they wanted to develop, and here they are, pitching in front of adults that they’ve never met, with confidence and answering questions. So they’ve come a long way.
NYLP: We went out and asked students about the impact of the program on their lives, what has owning entrepreneurship meant to them, what skills have they learned. Here’s Julia Gerlak, a teaching assistant explaining how NFTE has helped her presentation skills.
Has there been something that you learned that you were able to immediately apply?
Julia Gerlak: My presentation skills. Whenever anyone asks me this question, before I started this program, I literally sat in the back corner of each classroom. I was terrified of speaking and now I do it every day, it’s like second nature to me.
NYLP: And Charusmitha Madan, another teaching assistant explains how students seize on the opportunity presented by NFTE to grow and advance their education and careers.
Charusmitha Madan: The students that we have every single year, they have come from such difficult backgrounds and households and giving this opportunity over the course of summer, it’s just giving them a resource to conquer the world, in my opinion. So I just think this is amazing. We give them laptops, we give them every single thing that they would possibly need in order to succeed and it’s up to them how they use it.
NYLP: And how have they been using it?
Charusmitha Madan: Well, a lot of them have been using it in the best possible way, so I’m really glad to say one of my fellow friends that I did the program with, she’s interning at Bloomberg now, so I just think it’s really cool knowing the background that they came from and how far they’ve come along. It’s just really amazing.
NYLP: And Mikhai Tudor explains how he learned to overcome adversity when trying to start his comic book studio.
Mikhai Tudor: The most important thing I learned this summer was just like getting around obstacles that might not seem plausible. Like if you try to do something, if it doesn’t work out, most people just give up, but I’ve learned that you shouldn’t give up. You should just try, try, try again.
NYLP: So what was an example of that?
Mikhai Tudor: I had an artist in the beginning of this project I started, but they left and I kept on having a new artist over and over. Like every single week, I was losing an artist and getting one artist back and like right now, I’m still looking for an artist, so that’s really difficult for me.
NYLP: Why are you losing artists?
Mikhai Tudor: Because when they realize this is like a serious thing I’m trying to do, they’re not ready for the work.
NYLP: Who are the artists?
Mikhai Tudor: They’re high school students. So when they realize it’s a lot of work, especially with school coming back, they don’t want to do it anymore.
NYLP: At its core, learning entrepreneurship is acquired knowledge that will be applicable for the rest of a student’s life. That knowledge includes the soft skills you just heard about, like public presentation and overcoming adversity, but the students also learn about business. And for those who forget what it’s like to learn about business, here’s a reminder from Melissa Urena and Amari Campbell.
Melissa Urena: Well, we learned how to develop a business plan. All the terms like fixed expenses, liability insurance, all these things that I didn’t know went into a business.
NYLP: What’s liability insurance?
Melissa Urena: It’s when … oh god. You got to give me a second. Insurance for… go ahead.
Amari Campbell: Liability insurance is, well liability is when you’re accountable for something. So if something happens in your business, the insurance will take over. So say if you’re running a bakery and the food makes someone sick, the insurance will help so you don’t have to pay as much money if you get sued.
NYLP: What are these businesses? How have they come to be and how do the students think of them? We spoke to one student about how she started her business and her story may surprise you. What’s your name?
Brinine Jackson: Brinine Jackson.
NYLP: And what’s your business?
Brinine Jackson: My business is called Dry Wear Clothing. It’s a women undergarment clothing line that specializes in moisture wicking bras to prevent perspiration visibility in your upper body area.
NYLP: How did you come up with this idea?
Brinine Jackson: We had a class where we had to come up with our own business plans and it was so hard trying to find something creative, so my teacher just told me to think about my daily problems and my biggest problem was feeling cool and comfortable after school, after my practices, so I thought, why not create something that will prevent these marks from showing on my clothing.
NYLP: What type of practices?
Brinine Jackson: Cheerleading.
NYLP: And you made this all by yourself?
Brinine Jackson: Yeah.
NYLP: How’d you do that?
Brinine Jackson: I just used the guidelines that they gave me. At first it was just an idea so I worked all day and night finalizing the idea, and then presented with YEC, the Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge, so they helped me make my idea even stronger so I can potentially start this business. And then I got presented with startup summer and they gave me all the funds that I needed and the resources to actually meet people in this industry that can help me build up and actually create this bra. So I’ve been seeing so many different prototypes and doing revisions every week and it should be ready by mid-September.
NYLP: How much money did you get?
Brinine Jackson: So we request as much you need, so the first time I request a bit over $100 just for marketing and business cards, mini advertisements, promoting my Instagram and for my website. And then I requested almost $500 for fabrics and a high quality sewing machine.
NYLP: And where’s it going to be made?
Brinine Jackson : So everything’s going to be made by hand and I’m going to be making them at first, but once the demand increases and school starts and my schedule gets busy, I’m going to hire college age fashion students. So all the bras are going to be made on a made to order basis, so I’m going to pay them a commission, $11 per bra made rather than an hourly rate.
NYLP: How much do the bras cost?
Brinine Jackson: $39.99.
NYLP: And how much does it cost for you to make them?
Brinine Jackson: About $22.
NYLP: Where’s the fabric going to be from?
Brinine Jackson: I got the fabric from a fabric shop near my house. I worked out a deal with the owner since I’m a start-up company and she’s giving me a pretty fair discount to buy wholesale fabrics.
NYLP: And what makes your bra different than what’s out there on the market?
Brinine Jackson: My biggest competitor is Playtex because they have moisture wicking wireless bras as well, but I use a completely different fabric than them. I use scuba nylon spandex, which is becoming a big trend in the business world, in the athleisure world. The same material used in bathing suits that allows any part of your skin that the bra’s touching, your skin will be completely dry.
NYLP: How did you learn about that?
Brinine Jackson: When I went to the fabric shop, I was originally just going to be nylon spandex but I didn’t know much about it. And when I got to the store, he told me pretty much all of it, the whole store is pretty much nylon spandex, so what kind do I need? So I didn’t know what to do, so my mom told me just describe your business to him. So I gave him my 30 second pitch and he said, I know what you need and he took me downstairs to the back and showed me scuba nylon spandex. And when I felt it, I was like, this is what I want.
NYLP: What’s been your biggest challenge?
Brinine Jackson: My biggest challenge. I think balancing my schedule just to create this and working hard and these revisions, because I’m like a perfectionist and I just want it to be perfect when I sell it and I’ve been working hard to make this idea the best it can be and make this product a reality.
NYLP: Are you going to continue with this business?
Brinine Jackson: Yes. Definitely.
Brinine Jackson: Because I’ve worked so hard so I want to see the final product and after this whole summer, I’ve been surveying people to see if there’s a need for dry wear in the city and so many people want this bra so I feel like I’d be letting them down if I don’t continue.
NYLP: NFTE is a large organization and cannot make it without a lot of support. Support in the form of time, energy, and resources. The students need a place to learn, mentors to support them and experienced professionals who act as judges in the competition. What is surprising though is that as much support as NFTE needs, it is also able to help those give to the organization. This was a common theme over the summer. An organization called StartEd, an incubator at NYU, provided the space for NFTE and Arthur Godiva, from the organization explains what happens once the space was donated.
Arthur Godiva: NFTE is, I think, really something we believe in more than anything. Every single one of the incubator members, when we told them this was happening, at first it was like, oh are they going to be annoying, is it going to be too loud, is it going to be too many kids, are they going to be supportive? Each of them instantly responded with where was this when I was in high school? How can I help? How can I get involved and this is amazing. So we knew it was beneficial. I mean, it’s a two way street. We’re helping NFTE out, but NFTE is also helping us with just energy and liveliness and momentum.
NYLP: Here’s Michelle Ng from EY about why their company likes to contribute it’s resources to NFTE.
Why does EY want to be involved in this?
Michelle Ng: Our purpose is building a better working world, specifically with three decades of support for entrepreneurs of different industries and we see NFTE as nurturing the next generation of successful entrepreneurs.
NYLP: And what did EY contribute?
Michelle Ng: We provide a group of talented mentors each year during the start-up summer program. We also provide judges, advisors throughout the NFTE school year and finally we host all the start-up summer sessions in our New York office in Times Square.
NYLP: Who are the judges? They’re people like Joe Cohen, who’s been involved with NFTE for eight years. In addition to the benefits of mentoring the students, Joe describes how NFTE is helpful to those who volunteer, like him
Joe Cohen: I’ve been involved with NFTE for eight years and I think it’s an organization that is, just does so much for the participants and not even just the kids, it does a lot for the judges because it’s something that from the participation of the kids, they get access to professionals who have experience, who clearly want to give back and they get a change to pressure test their concepts. And also for them, these are kids, who in some instances, may not have otherwise had an opportunity to have visibility to what goes into marketing and it’s a chance to give these kids the experiences that could really shape the rest of their lives.
From the judges standpoint, I think that part of what makes this a great organization is you get a chance to really tap into parts of your professional journey that you may have forgotten about. Those early days of the excitement of learning about business and really understanding, it’s something that attracted you to the point that you’re still doing now all these years later. I think also it’s great for networking, both with the students who you see, there’s some talent here. People you want to keep an eye on or you may want to hire in the near future, and you also get to network with other judges, so I think it’s a win on multiple levels.
NYLP: This is a sentiment echoed by one of the mentors, Alicia Jordan.
Alicia Jordan: My experience has been, I feel like I’m the mentee. I’ve learned a lot from my mentee and she teaches me just as much as I teach her I think.
NYLP: So what is the overall impact on students? Let’s let them say it in their own words.
Eddie Andujar: Just how blessed I am for this, this opportunity that NFTE has provided me with. I woke up one morning and I just looked out my window and I was like, I’m very blessed for this opportunity. I don’t think I’ve really taken that into account because they’ve given me so many opportunities and utilities and resources I can use without paying a thing and I get to come here every day and have a great time. I just feel blessed.
Julia Gerlak: Seeing the way my parents, my parents and I, we came from Poland, and my dad works in construction and my mom works in offices. And their dream was always to own a business, because I guess to them, success in America is having their own business, so when I got introduced to NFTE, I was like, not only is this a dream for myself but it’s also making a dream for my parents come true. So entrepreneurship to me is just making dreams come true.
Brinine Jackson: NFTE is the best opportunity anyone can have to start a business. I had no knowledge of business entrepreneurship at all and now I feel like I own the biggest company on Wall Street or something.
NYLP: That was Eddie Andujarar, Julia Gerlak, Brinine Jackson in that order and that concludes this episode of the New York Launch Pod. For more information about the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, please visit NFTE.com. A special thank you to Zvia Schoenberg and everyone over at NFTE who let us follow them over the summer. For more information about the New York Launch Pod, you can visit us nylaunchpod.com or follow us on social media @nylaunchpod.SHARE THIS: