More than 12,000 young entrepreneurs have found a path toward long-term success through WeThrive.
Lidj Lewis spent most of his time teaching high school economics with a curriculum focused on theory. When he discovered WeThrive, his students suddenly had an opportunity to turn theory into practice.
Lewis was teaching at a Bronx high school when he started searching for tangible projects to integrate into the curriculum. WeThrive offered a hands-on solution. The organization helps under-resourced youth design business projects and bring them to life with seed funding, generating actual revenue.
Lewis divided his class into two teams and challenged each to come up with an idea for a working business. Lewis and WeThrive monitored the teams as they developed cupcake and smoothie businesses, launched during a community-wide Thanksgiving bake sale. Both teams were so successful that they were able to raise money to cover each member’s senior dues.
The students presented their business model to a panel of local business owners who evaluated their work and helped them tighten their pitch and refine their ideas.
“The process gave them a sense of accomplishment and self-worth, a sense of vision,” Lewis says. “It showed they could do something beyond just study and try to get good grades in school.”
In contrast to existing entrepreneurship programs that emphasize exclusivity, every WeThrive participant gets access to seed funding and support to bring their ideas to life, including connections to business professionals serving as entrepreneurship mentors. Through entrepreneurship, participants explore their potential for leadership, creativity, and social endeavors, setting them on a path to success.
Resources for young entrepreneurs are not equally accessible
Young people of color and people from low-income communities often have more barriers to success in the business and education world than others. For those who want to start their own companies, it can also be hard to see role models in their chosen field — be it fashion, food, tech or beauty.
WeThrive works to fill that gap by connecting 12- to 24-year-olds with other burgeoning entrepreneurs who share common interests, as well as long-term mentors.
Participants start by identifying a business plan they would like to work on and receive guidance from mentors and corporate partners, which include Microsoft, AT&T and WeWork. This takes place through a website hub and mobile app that delivers self-paced lesson modules.
The short-term microenterprises are creating real revenue. Additionally, if a student’s goal is to start a full-fledged company, the WeThrive Seed Fund can provide funds to get them started. Support is ongoing over the long-term.
This works towards balancing the scales of opportunity and economic justice between those in low-income communities and those with access to more resources. The goal is longevity: WeThrive hopes to equip young people with confidence to pursue any future goal. Through entrepreneurship, the organization ensures that every student is set up for success in any endeavor, whether running their own venture, pursuing higher education, or joining the workforce.
Lewis saw this firsthand. Lewis shares that many of his students who participated in the WeThrive collaboration during their senior year economics class “took this entrepreneurial spirit into college” and went on to major in business, marketing or finance.
“Students in high-need areas want to know how to manage their money, how to make money,” Lewis says. “Money will be a part of their life for the rest of their lives and when you’re a young person, 18, 19, 20 or so, you’re starting to make a living. You want to know how to manage it, how to manage credit, how to apply for different types of financing.”
WeThrive equips the young entrepreneur community with life skills too
Beyond entrepreneurship, WeThrive helps young people realize and use the unique talents and interests they already possess.
By focusing on essential skills, like public speaking, financial literacy, problem solving and social capital, young people gain confidence and the skills to handle life’s challenges, moving towards self-actualization.
“In your personal life, you need to learn how to communicate and relate to people within an organization and outside of it,” Lewis says. “Hopefully they’ll be able to have those skills transcend from place to place. Later, if they travel to other countries, they’ll have to learn how to communicate with people from different cultures and in different environments.”
WeThrive has shown that young people from underserved communities are capable of incredible growth — they just have to be given an opportunity to prove themselves.
Over 12,000 young entrepreneurs have taken part in the program so far. They’ve generated more than $800,000 in revenue through their business endeavors. The program has spread to over seven major cities and hopes to expand.
Even though Lewis has since moved on to a different high school, he continues to put alumni of his in touch with WeThrive to launch their entrepreneurial careers.
“There’s a real thirst for this type of program and for entrepreneurship and financial literacy in general,” Lewis says. “Young kids, they want to know how to make a better life for themselves.”