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 futurefounders.com/get-involved/ and sign up today!