When I was around 11 years old, I had a lemonade stand. My grandfather built one for me that was made of repurposed wood. It was equipped with wheels for mobility and plenty of table top space for a full display of tasty summer beverages. Hipsters would’ve gone crazy for it. The lemonade stand that I would push to the YMCA across the street every day from my childhood home was my first exposure to the world of entrepreneurship.
Long hours, production, supply and demand, management, revenue, all technical things I experienced before the age of twelve simply by selling lemonade in my neighborhood. For me, exposure to this stuff at a young age was a blessing. I experienced first hand the idea of making money for myself. Creating a hustle for myself, in a positive way. Not all youth, especially in an inner city like Chicago will see the idea of hustling as something positive. This is why organizations like Gray Matter exists, to change the narrative of the black community when it comes to enterprise.
The Gray Matter Experience is a 501(c)3 organization that serves as an entrepreneurial experience for underserved African-American high school students living in the South and West sides of Chicago. The organization’s mission is to empower youth to create their own businesses that will positively impact their communities. The organization was founded just over a year ago by Britney Robbins. A young woman who like, I was exposed to entrepreneurship at an early age. Like many of us fresh out of college, Britney began working in corporate America, and soon realized it was not her “jam,” and began exploring opportunities in start-up communities and youth programming. After working for several venture capital firms, Britney soon realized that there was a significant gap. “What I saw was a juxtaposition,” said Britney, ” I am working with all these students that look like me[…] but when I am walking into these spaces, where I’m employed, most times I am the only African-American, let alone the only African-American woman[…]where is the representation of minority people in these spaces?” By creating Gray Matter, Britney is bridging the gap for teen entrepreneurs in underserved communities.
Grey Matter works with a select group of high school students between the ages of 15-18 for an intensive 9-week entrepreneurship experience. These students are chosen because of their drive and spirit for creating their own business. Grey Matter has eliminated the average GPA and socio-economic barriers commonly associated with programs such as these, to allow students who are passionate to actually pursue their entrepreneurial endeavors. “It’s more about the spirit than the accolades,” noted Brittney when discussing the application process for Gray Matter.
During the 9-weeks, students experience hands-on activities that expose them to industries such as sound engineering and 3D-printing, as well as technical content that focuses on topics like marketing and legal advice. These real experiences lead up to the #PtchBlk competition. The competition determines which companies will move forward with their businesses that would be scheduled to launch after a three-month period of time.
At the end of the program, students receive a stipend that they can use towards scholarships, internships, or seed funding for their business. “We want them[students] to be successful, whatever that looks like to them,” stated Britney when asked about the cohort pursuing entrepreneurship fully versus higher education. The skills learned through Gray Matter prepare students for opportunities to further their education both traditionally and non-traditionally.
The Gray Matter experience is bringing in all aspects of black excellence to its program. From the beginning, students are challenged to create a business that focuses on their community. Businesses that will help to redevelop communities and bring back black buying power; which is worth $1.3 trillion dollars according to Black Enterprise. This black excellence leads into personal development for the teens as well. Many teens within Gray Matter have grown in their confidence and leadership skills because of the program. Finally, Gray Matter seeks to show teens black excellence through black-owned and operated businesses. By building long-term relationships with businesses like CurlMix, Gray Matter is “keeping it as black as we can,” said Brittney. It’s vital that these students are positively exposed to people who look like them in any and every industry.
As the school year comes to an end, students will have the opportunity to be fully submerged into their businesses this summer. Lip Locker, a do-it-yourself lipstick company that caters to minority women and RecruiTeen, an app to help connect teens to jobs with small business will be fully built and launched by the summer. Gray Matter is giving students the tools the need to change their lives by creating sustainable businesses for themselves and their communities. Join Gray Matter in their pursuit to empower these young, black, and ambitious entrepreneurs by donating, volunteering, or partnering with their experiential program. Learn more by visiting their website here.
Be sure to listen to the transparent interview between me and Britney below. The Good Seeker podcast is also available via iTunes and Soundcloud