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.
“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.
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