Introducing Malachi Smith – NFTE Chicago Metro Regional Entrepreneurship Challenge 2nd Place Winner

Introducing Malachi Smith – NFTE Chicago Metro Regional Entrepreneurship Challenge 2nd Place Winner

On October 6th, 2016, Malachi Smith of Thornwood High School will be heading to New York City to compete in the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. He earned this spot in the NFTE National business plan competition by winning 2nd place in the Chicago Metro Regional Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge on May 17th, 2016.

“I was just thinking, ‘Man, I did it! NYC here we come! Let’s get this W!’.

Like Deandre Allen, the other Chicago Metro National competitor, Malachi has never been to New York City. Both will have to opportunity to enjoy their first time to New York as tourists, but both are focused on their main goal, winning the $25,000 venture grant for 1st place.

Malachi will be working hard all summer in preparation to present his business plan for a memory preservation company called Mini Me Figurines. His company will help its customers preserve their most precious memories in 3-D figurines that are modeled after the likeness of their subjects.

“My idea is important to me because my product applies to everyone, everyone has something important to them they want to preserve forever. I also know that my product can be therapeutic for some customers through preserving a personal connection with a loved one who passed away.”

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The pitch environment seems a natural fit for Malachi, who embarked upon an acting career at the age of five. His presentation is very animated and visual, his style impeccable, and his enthusiasm tangible. He is eager to speak to as many people as will listen about his ventures, and he is comfortable on stage. In fact, it seems that he thrives on stage, actually stating that he finds it to be fun to present to a large audience!

Though he is confident in his idea, Malachi sees himself as an entrepreneur beyond the scope of this project. “NFTE has added to my life in reaffirming my entrepreneurial plans, sharpening my presentation skills, and by providing me with great networking opportunities. Before taking the class I had plans of being an entrepreneur but no confidence in my entrepreneurial skills. This competition has completely changed that around.” He wants to take these skills forward in his life to make sure that he breaks the cycle of complacency that he sees affecting the people of his neighborhood. He has promised himself that he will always be motivated to achieve more.

We know that it can be hard to be asked to find your passion as a high school student, but NFTE doesn’t necessitate that you hone in on your one passion. Our curriculum teaches students skills that can be a framework for any passion. Malachi seems to understand that value of his NFTE course, and is open to see where his entrepreneurial mindset and skills may take his future. With that attitude we know we will see big things from Malachi both at finals, and in life.

Stay tuned for updates on the journey to the NFTE National Entrepreneurship Challenge and other successes form our inspiring young entrepreneurs.




Introducing Deandre Allen – NFTE Chicago Regional Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge 1st Place Winner

Introducing Deandre Allen – NFTE Chicago Regional Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge 1st Place Winner

If there is one thing that we have learned this year by spending time with our students, it is that there is no typical NFTE student. Truly, that is the beauty of the NFTE experience in that it can take so many different shapes, that it adapts to each student in a unique way.

It has been a lot of fun interviewing this year’s Regional Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge winners and getting to know their personal NFTE story. Over the next few posts, we will share those stories with you and we know you will join us in supporting these young entrepreneurs as they journey forward!

Our 1st and 2nd place winners will spend this summer getting ready to compete at the NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge held in NYC on October 6th, 2016. Let’s take a look at what has gone into earning this opportunity to win $25,000 in venture capital, and National NFTE acclaim.

The 2016 NFTE Chicago Metro Regional 1st Place winner is Deandre Allen of Chicago Tech Academy. Chicago Tech is a Chicago Public High School founded to develop leaders in technology and entrepreneurship. The NFTE course is offered at Chicago Tech Academy to students at an introductory and advanced level under the instruction of entrepreneurship teacher, Jon Bull.

2016 NFTE Finals-0988“Mr. Bull has been my teacher since freshman year. He is like my coach. He lets me make my own mistakes. Not mistakes to hurt me, but mistakes to let me learn what to do next time. He was the first person I hugged at finals – I wouldn’t have made it this far without his support and his sticking by my side this entire time since freshman year. He is my biggest support.

In Deandre’s introductory entrepreneurship class, Mr. Bull recognized his potential, and thrust him into the role of CFO of his school store. Deandre recalls that this was the day that he realized he was interested in business. He enjoyed the challenge of strategic thinking, planning, execution, and leading a team. This initial experience pushed him to think about how he could apply these skills to his own future business(es).

That year, he worked on his NFTE business project with an idea for a social network that integrated other existing social networks. That venture didn’t make it through competition season, and some might consider this a failure. Deandre however, was motivated by this experience. He took what he learned from his “failure” and put his energy into developing a new business idea.

Part of the NFTE curriculum is looking at opportunity recognition as a matrix of one’s interest, skills, and market opportunity. When entering his Entrepreneurship II class, Deandre was able to identify “I love education; I am very interested in education and reforming the quality of it, so why not find a business that you know revolves around that.” Then, with the assistance of Mr. Bull and the NFTE framework, he held some focus groups, did some design-based thinking, and from this his winning idea, Profs Academy, was born.

Profs Academy is a social network for teachers that provides a platform for teachers to share best practices, lessons, professional development, and professional learning communities. This venture is well under way, with downtown office space, a startup team of Chicago Tech students, and mentors and advisors from Chicago’s business community. Deandre acts as CEO and promotional face of the venture. He does all this while being a 17 year-old junior in high school, employee of AMC Theaters, and now NFTE National finalist.

“NFTE has given me an opportunity that not too many 17 year-olds have. And for that, I am at this state of happiness that I don’t think anyone can ever take away from me, ever in my life. I will always remember this day, and finals night, even being given the opportunity for nationals. I just feel like I’m at this exalted state right now. And for me that is success that will always continue to grow.”

As an educator, I had a special moment quietly within my mind when I heard this come out of Deandre’s mouth. This is the dream; providing our students with the opportunity to gain the skills and support that will foster a sense of efficacy and confidence that they can carry forward into all future endeavors! This is the essence of education – we are at a point in history where access to information is no longer the barrier it once was (thanks internet!), but the access to the mindset that one can take this information and run to the highest peaks of success, that is the big challenge.

Many NFTE students don’t necessarily grow up with access to this mindset. To discuss why this may be is not our aim here. But Deandre knows what I am talking about, which is why he came to the idea of Profs Academy in the first place. “I went to Beasley Academic Center, which is in my opinion one of the best elementary schools on the south side. You hear a lot that north side schools give a better education than south side schools in Chicago. I wanted to investigate that, and find solutions.” He and his team hope that Profs Academy will help facilitate the development of teachers in a way that will create solution oriented discussions to address the opportunity gap in education, and help provide equity for all students.

While we wait for Deandre, his team, and Profs Academy to take the world by storm, he still remains a 17 year-old high school student who likes to hang out with his friends, is excited about going to NYC for the first time, has to pass finals, is nervous and emotional about his future – and just so happens to be the CEO of a ed tech startup.

“When I am work (at AMC) I get emails from my team every five minutes. I have to sneak into the bathroom to answer them.”

What were you doing at 17?

We hope you will stay tuned and follow Deandre’s journey as he works toward the NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge in October (and hey, if you are in the NY area, you should come check it out)!

Next week, we will be introducing you to our 2nd place regional winner, and Nationals competitor, Malachi Smith.

As always, to learn more about Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship check out and

Stay current with Profs Academy on
Twitter @ProfsAcademy

NFTE Class of 2016

NFTE Class of 2016

Let us just begin by recognizing that though our competition season is exciting and eye catching, it is not a sufficient representation of all the work that has been done this school year. The NFTE Class of 2016 is 1,500 students strong, who even if they don’t know it yet, have enhanced their entrepreneurial mindset through taking the NFTE course. Our students have been pushed to work on one project all year long. They have applied their learning to real world problems and opportunities, and they have employed solution oriented thinking and analysis to their business plans.

Each and every NFTE student should be proud to say that they are NFTE 2016.

We do have a competition season however, and we would like to highlight our winners today!

2016 marked the First Annual 30 Second Pitch contest as a part of the Finals challenge. In addition to the 6 finalists, 8 “fast pitch” students were selected to present to the crowd during the cocktail hour. These students networked in the crowd, introducing themselves to as many guests as possible before delivering their formal 30 second pitch. Guests then voted for their favorite pitch by investing their “NFTE Bucks”, ultimately deciding the winner.

Potty Party, an interactive game that inserts directly into your toilet, aims to help young boys learn how to use the bowl properly, and was the winning pitch from Thornwood High School student, Marcus Hill.

Each student who presented in the 2016 Chicago Metro Regional Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge brought their unique, thorough, and impressive business plans to the audience with confidence, preparation and pizzazz. They all did a wonderful job, and should be celebrated not only for their work on their plans, but for getting up in front of a crowd of 200+ people and sharing their years’ work.

So many accomplishments were built into this one night, and it was truly special to watch.

The NFTE program is not over yet for our 1st and 2nd place winners. They will be working hard over the summer to perfect their plans; preparing to present them at the NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge to be held October 6th, 2016 in New York City. They will compete against the 1st and 2nd place winners from the other NFTE regions around the country (New York Metro, New England, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, South Florida, North Texas, St. Louis, Los Angeles Metro, and Bay Area).

The winner of this National competition will receive $25,000 in venture capital and countless connections to help get their business off the ground. Needless to say, the stakes are extremely exciting!

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From left to right: Malachi Smith, Deandre Allen, Ethan Velez

It is our pleasure and honor to introduce the 2016 winners!

Our 1st place winner, Deandre Allen currently attends Chicago Tech Academy. He has developed an app that provides teachers with a social media platform to share best practices, form professional learning communities, and participate in professional development.

The 2nd place winner, Malachi Smith, is a current student at Thornwood High School in South Holland, IL. His business, Mini Mi Figurines, will design and manufacture personalized figurines to preserve memories in a fun and unique way.

Though not heading to New York for the National Youth Entrepreneurship Challange, our 3rd place finalist, Ethan Velez, deserves no less acclaim. Ethan’s business idea is to harvest spider silk to replace the rubber coating on electrical power lines. Spider silk is stronger and more flexible than the currently used rubber, which Ethan hopes will decrease the quantity of power outages for his customers.

Keep your eye on the NFTE Chicago Metro blog in the coming weeks for features of each of our amazing finalists!


Looking Forward…

Looking Forward…

It is the morning of our Regional Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge Finals. Almost everything is set and ready to go, and now we wait. We wait for our guests to arrive. We wait for the nervous giggles backstage as our presenters peek out at the large crowd. We wait for the 30 Second Pitch contestants to hustle the crowd. We wait for the students to take the stage and wow us with their dedication to their business ideas. We wait for the laughter and tears of triumph and disappointment.

We know how hard our students and teachers have worked this year, and we know that this night will not disappoint. It is going to be a satisfying display of the impact that the NFTE program can have for its participants.

But what will come when 8pm rolls around and everything we have all be working for comes to a close?

For our students, some of their entrepreneurial journeys will continue. For tonight’s first and second place winners, the next step is to prepare their pitches for the National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge competition in New York City for the chance to win $25,000. Others will go back to high school, or enter into college with the entrepreneurial mindset in their academic foundation.

At the NFTE Chicago Metro office, we will be planning for our NFTE Class of 2017.

For the 2016-2017 school year, we are going to be focusing on two elements of our program that we feel drive the most impact for Chicago’s youth: volunteers and local entrepreneurs.

Moving forward, our volunteer model will be the bedrock of the NFTE classroom model. We have already signed on corporate partners with commitments to adopt over 50 classrooms. In the classroom adoption model, volunteers have 6-8 volunteer events per school year with their students. They host field trips to their corporate offices, coach students on their business plans, mentor the entrepreneurial mindset, and host classroom competitions. By providing students with diverse experiences over time with dedicated volunteers, we are creating a community of learning that is unmatched in entrepreneurship education.

Steve Iammartino, NFTE Chicago Manager of Programs, has been an advocate of the NFTE volunteer model. As a former NFTE teacher, he knows exactly what consistent and well trained volunteers can mean to NFTE students.

“Volunteers create a more robust experience as students are encouraged to innovate and bring their ideas to the table for collaboration and proof of concept. The relationships built during coaching and mentoring helps build a student’s view of themselves as members of the market economy and business community.”

After students accept their invitation into the economy as more than a consumer, we aim to integrate a fairly new element into their NFTE experience. By engaging local, and often niche entrepreneurs, students will be introduced to innovation and opportunity that surrounds them in their local community. This element of next year’s programming is a particular passion point for the NFTE Chicago Metro Director, Scott Nasatir.

“It is extremely important to our organization that students are exposed to local entrepreneurs and unique businesses. An inclusive programming model will enable our students to be informed, active participants in our economy.”

In order to achieve excellence in our new model, it is essential that the Chicago community steps up. We believe in creating change through action, and that means more than just donating money to NFTE at our annual galas. NFTE has the potential to change the trajectory of the lives of our students by providing them with real world connections and and collaborators.

We are looking forward to next year’s programs and successes. We hope that you will join us in our excitement and in our action.


If you are interested in joining our movement to create a supportive and sustainable economic community for all of Chicago’s residents, please contact us at


2016 NFTE Chicago Metro Finalists!

2016 NFTE Chicago Metro Finalists!

Meet the 2016 Chicago Metro Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge Finalists!

The 2016 NFTE competition cycle started with 1,200 students citywide, and after a series of preliminary and semi-final competitions, we are proud to announce this year’s finalists!

Brycen Cousins of Lindblom Math and Science Academy, Snappy Jerseys 
Jacqueline Lopez
of Shields Middle School, Bandi Pops
DeAndre Allen of Chicago Technology Academy, Profs Academy
Taylor Coffey of Thornwood High School, Snapped
Ethan Velez of ASPIRA Business and Finance High School, Spider Lines
Malachi Smith of Thornwood High School, Mini Mi Figurines 

Please join us in congratulating not only our finalists, but all of the NFTE students who have worked extremely hard this year to complete their original business plans! 

The Chicago Metro Regional Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge Finals will be held Tuesday, May 17th, 2016 from 5:30-7:30pm at UIC’s Student Center East. We hope you will join us!

Finals Invitation - General

Space is limited, so please RSVP and reserve your free tickets here! 

NFTE Teacher Danny Gray Wins 2016 Golden Apple Award

NFTE Teacher Danny Gray Wins 2016 Golden Apple Award

In the NFTE Chicago Metro office we take education seriously, and that is in no small part because we have each spent time at the head of the classroom. For this reason we know exactly what faces our NFTE teachers daily. Teaching is a challenging job for many reasons, but chief among them is that each student is going to bring their own lives into the classroom. It takes a certain determination to meet each student where they are, and to find a path to success no matter the obstacles.

We know that teachers tirelessly work toward this end and give their all to their students daily, and we could not be more excited or more proud to announce that Mr. Danny Gray, a NFTE teacher at Thornwood High School in South Holland, IL, has received the 2016 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching and Leadership

Gray_web  Congratulations Mr. Gray!

Mr. Danny Gray is a huge part of the Thornwood community. He is not just a teacher, but also a mentor, a confidant, a person to go to for support. He leads several clubs, including “A Few Good Men”, a club where young men can find support from their male elders. Mr. Gray knows that many of the students in his community don’t have strong support systems when they leave his care, and he has made it his mission to make sure that his students know that there are many opportunities to be successful.

It is clear when talking to his students, that Mr. Gray excels because he approaches their challenges with empathy and reassurance. “I always try to put myself in their shoes, I put their lives first,” he says. This gives the students confidence and actionable tools to move forward. In speaking with some of his former students, it was evident that they had a strong relationship with their teacher and friend.

“Mr. Gray is the reason I am doing some of the things I am doing today. He pushed me when I was in high school. He pulled me out of class and told me I wasn’t doing my best and that he know I could do, a lot of things, I don’t even remember what he said, but I believed him, and said, ‘yeah, I can do that’”.

Mr. Gray naturally approaches his students in ways that embody the entrepreneurial mindset – he truly collaborates with his students, he problem solves, and he innovates. Maybe that is why he is so successful as a NFTE teacher.

5 years ago Mr. Gray began teaching NFTE’s entrepreneurship curriculum with only one section, and he was so passionate about the course, that he advocated to offer the program to more students. He now teaches NFTE exclusively, reaching about 100 students annually.

“NFTE inspires kids to want to be successful, and gives them skills that can be utilized beyond the classroom. I am a little biased, but I know that this class, is by far, the best business class ever. I have taught several, and there is no comparison. The skills taught in the NFTE curriculum are amazing! The resources are amazing! The professional development is amazing! And OMG, the business competition that the kids prepare for, it’s amazing!”

In his time with NFTE, 2 teams of students from Thornwood High School have advanced to the NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. During the 2011 school year, Jesus Fernandez and Teheeb Okenla built their NFTE business plan around the idea of creating soccer socks with a built in space for 360° shin guards. Under the guidance of Mr. Gray, they not only advanced to, and won, the National competition but they are currently waiting for the first shipment of their product to arrive from the manufacturer.

We chatted with Jesus and Toheeb about their former teacher’s Golden Apple.

“That’s awesome, that’s absolutely awesome. I am not surprised he would win such an award. I don’t know what other kind of teacher would win. I just can’t think of any teacher that would deserve an award like this more than Mr. Gray. He really, really, really, really deserves it. He works so hard. He works so, so hard. He still contacts us on a regular basis. He cares about his students, and still even when his students don’t believe in themselves that much at first. Definitely a well-deserved award.”

It was clear from the joy in their voices, the enthusiasm of their words, and the success they have seen in their lives, that these two former students not only hold Mr. Gray in high esteem, but also still feel his presence as a positive and guiding force.

So, Mr. Gray, we here at NFTE Chicago Metro THANK YOU for being who you are to your students – our students – and we look forward to all of your, and their, achievements in the years to come.

To learn more about Golden Apple and the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching and Leadership, visit their website.

Global Young Entrepreneur – Sonya Everett

Global Young Entrepreneur – Sonya Everett

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill reports that 1 in 5 teens, age 13-18 live with a mental health condition (Please access their list of warning signs here). With all our efforts at NFTE to support students thought our curriculum and programming, this is an issue that we cannot expect to impact directly.

Indirectly however, we have our ways 🙂

This year’s NFTE Global Young Entrepreneur from Chicago, Sonya Everett, has developed a nonprofit that seeks to educate young adults by raising awareness of mental health issues. Her program, called You’re Not Alone uses social media and popular online platforms to show teens that there are others having similar experiences of depression and anxiety. When asked about her motivation to develop this program Sonya explains,

“Too many kids live their lives with the thought that their negative experiences are unique and only lived by them. We wanted to give kids the opportunity to meet people like them and see that just because you have a mental illness, it doesn’t mean that it will hold you back.”

Sonya took the NFTE course her senior year at Josephinum Academy, an all girls school dedicated to the advancement of women. Before attending Josephinum, Sonya recalls her high school experience as something she “hated”, but when she got to Josephinum, “everything changed.” Her NFTE Teacher, Renee Vai, was a huge part of that. “I had the MOST AMAZING NFTE teacher to ever walk this earth. Mrs. Vai was my mentor, my teacher, and my friend; she was the most important part of my experience at Josephinum. She taught us the ways of the world and never let us think that we couldn’t do something.”

Though Sonya didn’t pursue the business that she developed with Mrs. Vai in her NFTE class, but what she learned that year brought her to You’re Not Alone. “I never thought I could build a business. I never thought I could take control of my own life and make my own dreams into a reality. NFTE changed that.

NFTE gave me a pen and paper and said ‘write your own story’. So now I do.”

Sonya’s story has brought her to the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship Global Showcase as Chicago’s Global Youth Entrepreneur of the Year. Last night, she was honored along with Chicago’s Enterprising Educator of the Year, Shawn Sanders.GLobal Showcase Sonya Shawn

The Global Showcase is a great opportunity to publicize You’re Not Alone and bring community to youth mental health. When we asked Sonya what she hopes for her future and the future of You’re Not Alone, she is humble.

“My hopes are simple, I want to save lives. I want to be happy. Helping people makes me happy.”

If you are interested in learning more about You’re Not Alone
you can visit their website at or
the YNA Tumblr at

We cannot stress how proud we are of Sonya and You’re Not Alone.

A huge congratulations from NFTE Chicago!