Giving Back With Some Entrepreneurial Passion

Giving Back With Some Entrepreneurial Passion

Many people help the city of Chicago by volunteering. Some people spend time at food banks, soup kitchens and clothing drives. Other people volunteer for our churches or participate in the Big Brother program. While all of those are great and make a HUGE difference in people’s lives, for me, they were unable to fuel my entrepreneurial passion.


This year, I have had the pleasure of volunteering for the Future Founders Foundation, diving into mentoring sessions with some of Chicago’s brightest, under-privileged youth.  Future Founders has been bringing bright entrepreneurs into class rooms to offer them real-world insight into entrepreneurship, while at the same time offering them coaching on their class-assigned business plans. Patrick Smith talked me into volunteering when the program was gaining traction after it had been spun out of the CEC, but I struggled to commit. He and I met again at a BIC Launch, and he convinced me to come and spend some time learning about what these kids were doing in the entrepreneurship classes.

My first experience led me to EPIC Academy, a CPS charter school on the south side of the city. A small group of us mentors gathered for a class to hear groups of students pitch their ideas. We were asked to offer up critiques and advice to help them improve, but I must say, they were further along than I was in my company’s infancy.


We got to spend a little more time with the students in the next period, where we sat down with their teams to discuss and dissect their ideas. The team I sat with was made of two members: a bright young man, the idea guy, and a well-spoken young mother who attends school during the day and works two jobs until 3am only to get up and do it all over again. Their idea was to create a kiosk service at grocery and convenience stores in their neighborhood where consumers could easily pay their bills. We discussed the idea for a while, and I presented them with some interesting findings on how the technology could work and the potential competition.

When the chats were over, the students stood up to tell the class what they took away from each mentor. These kids had scribbled their notes diligently and had a lot to report from each mentor. I just hoped we weren’t too overwhelming.

Since my first session, I have attended classes at many of the city’s high schools, giving one or two mornings a month to Future Founders. I was asked to speak to a class of junior high students about my personal experiences as an entrepreneur, as well as help facilitate discussion within their groups. I also had the privilege of serving as a judge during a preliminary round of the business planning competition.


My experience with the Future Founders was capped off this year with their annual pitch and awards event held at the Hard Rock Café. There, the finalists from the business plan competition wowed the crowd with their pitches and business insight. It was great to cheer for the kids that I helped coach during the year, and they were all amazing. Some pitches were even better than mine (I was taking notes). Future Founders also recognized the amazing volunteers for their work with the students. I was very thankful to receive a Rookie of the Year Award for service to the organization during my first year.

The Future Founders program is truly making a difference by instilling the spirit of entrepreneurship into this group of youngsters. I suggest that all entrepreneurs looking to give back get involved with this organization. It has been one of the most rewarding volunteer experiences I have ever had. And besides, they are training students to be like us when they grow up! Who wouldn’t want to be part of that amazing influence?

To get involved, visit and sign up today!

Nice Shirt Bro! – 4 Tips for Startup T-Shirts

Nice Shirt Bro! – 4 Tips for Startup T-Shirts

Maybe you have attended a zillion Chicago startup events like BIC Launch, TechCocktail, or Technori Pitch to network and learn about the community. And maybe you found yourself gawking at startup teams that came dressed for the event wearing their company’s swag and thought, “That’s awesome! How do I get shirts for my startup?”

We boot-strappers know that every penny needs to be carefully spent and maxing out our credit card ordering t-shirts just doesn’t make sense. We also understand that our shirts need to be just right to convey our brand message while looking cool. And believe it or not, there is a certain unspoken standard you should abide by.


From experience with my startup, I have devised these four easy tips to make a great startup t-shirt.

1.     STAND OUT – Pick a style and color that will get you noticed. Hopefully you already chose a bright color for your brand that will easily translate into shirt form. If not, pick a close color or iterate your logo/image to work with the shirt color. Thankfully, with BTSocial, we used organge as our main color which really stands out at events. Not to step on any toes, but blue is way overdone. The biggest tech companies all have blue in the brand sceme. Be bold and different. I think yellow looks really nice this time of year.

2.     KEEP IT SIMPLE – We’re not talking about printing a whimsical graphic T or some amazing rendering from Threadless. You just need a simple and clear representation of your brand that people can understand. Ideally, it would be good to translate your logo to solid white and print it on your bright colored shirt. Not only is this easy on the eyes, but also saves you on multi-color printing costs. The folks at SpotHero are all about this. Your design should also be easy to read and not too wordy. Your logo and call to action are good, but don’t overdo it with a long tagline in a small font that’s too hard to read, requiring us to practically bury our face in your chest. Awkward.

3.     USE THE BACK – Your shirt has a lot of real estate and while it shouldn’t be overused, it also shouldn’t be wasted. Many companies also do back printing, so add something to the back across the shoulder blades so that even when your back is turned you’re showing off your brand. With our BTSocial shirts, we put our website address on the back. It’s also fun to turn around and show people the back in conversation.


4.     COORDINATE YOUR TEAM – When you’re heading to an event with your startup, whether you’re pitching or not, have everyone wear their shirt – its obviously a great way to get noticed. Now, not all events are suitable for your shirts. Some are formal and require a tie, so throwing a sport coat over your t-shirt to make a Silicon Valley Tuxedo is not always acceptable. Look at your industry for best practices. Also, if you are going to a lot of events and wearing your shirts frequently, make sure they are clean. This should really go unsaid, but don’t wear the same exact shirt in the sweaty summer heat to TechWeek. People will notice those pit stains!

So this is great, but where can you get your shirts made? As you already know, there are many companies that print shirts, but most can be VERY expensive and often require high minimum orders. If you only need eight shirts (say three for your team and five to give away) then your options are limited as most printers require twenty or more.