Harvard Ventures Empowers Queens NY Middle School Students During Recent Entrepreneurship Event

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The Unprecedented and Enlightening Event Involved Students from St. Elizabeth Catholic Academy

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When we started Harvard Ventures, entrepreneurship was barely considered a career choice here, so our mission was to empower the budding founders on campus with the support, resources, and community they needed to take that leap of faith.

Harvard Ventures, an undergraduate entrepreneurship club at Harvard University, held an event entitled “E^2: Entrepreneurship and Empowerment” on Friday April 18, 2015, focusing on the intersection of entrepreneurship and personal empowerment. The event featured some of the leading college, traditional and social entrepreneurs on three panels moderated by Phillip Schalli, president of the Entrepreneurship Club at Harvard Business School, Harvard Ventures president Eric Ouyang, and Chris Protasewich, a principal at Highland Capital Partners. The keynote was provided by former vice chairman of the executive committee for the Harvard Board of Overseers, Robert N. Shapiro. The Harvard Ventures event not only fostered entrepreneurship for Harvard students, but also empowered two dozen budding middle school entrepreneurs (ages 9-13) from underserved communities in Brooklyn and Queens NY.

Harvard Ventures facilitates a wide array of activities on campus, including founder and VC partner coffee chats, skill workshops, panel discussions with experts, pitch competitions, and social events aimed to bring together like-minded individuals from various walks of life. "It's inspiring for us as college students to see so much energy, excitement, and vision come out of people at such a young age. The event certainly set a great precedent for Harvard Ventures to get more involved with the community beyond the borders of our campus," said Harvard Ventures president and event co-organizer Eric Ouyang.

The day kicked off well before the panel event, with the schoolchildren from New York receiving an engaging tour and an insightful discussion of life at Harvard from Ventures Club members. Fabien, a 10-year-old from Queens NY, could not hide his enthusiasm for the event, saying “After spending the day with Harvard Ventures, I know I want to start my own business but I also want to go to Harvard, where everyone was so friendly and fun to be around.”

The three teams of middle school students from Brooklyn and Queens all attend St. Elizabeth Catholic Academy—a pre-K-8th grade school dedicated to empowering self-reliant leaders. The students pitched their own ideas for social improvement during the E^2 event, hoping to meet potential mentors and technical experts to join their social enterprises. "When we started Harvard Ventures, entrepreneurship was barely considered a career choice here, so our mission was to empower the budding founders on campus with the support, resources, and community they needed to take that leap of faith. What a treat it was to host middle school entrepreneurs who already had the passion and confidence to go for it," said co-founder of Harvard Ventures and HelloToken CEO Brian Truong.

The students from St Elizabeth's had worked hard to obtain this once in a life time opportunity. A presenting student proposal, titled “At My Business Bank” had previously won a financial education competition during NBA All Star Weekend in NYC, sponsored by Pursuit Sports Group and Regal Financial, that was aimed at promoting financial literacy to professional athletes and kids, with leading speakers featured including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The students are promoting financial literacy by developing a free financial app where kids and teens run their own virtual business.

Another student proposal, “The Purifers” have won several social entrepreneurship competitions at leading organizations across New York over the past six months, including NYU Stern and the venerable Kaye Scholer LLP. Working in collaboration with the MiddyFund, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering next generation of entrepreneurs through high school mentors, the students are tackling their community environmental issues by building a do it yourself greenhouse and other useful everyday objects built out of recycled bottles.

The last group of middle school presenters from “A Stride Towards Pride” discussed the lack of young people in positions of leadership and how entrepreneurism provides a solution. We want to show these young students how a spirit of entrepreneurship forms, how it develops, and how it can be used to effect change."Many of the audience members approached us afterwards to share how inspired they were by the work the kids are doing at such a young age," said co-organizer and Harvard Ventures director Joseph Kahn. The schoolchildren will continue on with their social enterprises; guided by mentors from Harvard and leading NY high schools such as Archbishop Molloy and The Baccalaureate School for Global Education.

The students gained invaluable advice from the speakers. The young entrepreneur’s panel featured some of the most successful college entrepreneurs including Brooke Nowakowski, co-founder of Spray Cake, Bitcoin wizard Michael Gao, leading entrepreneurial scientist Joshua Meier, and HelloToken CEO Brian Truong all discussed the advantages of failing often while young and moving forward from adversity. Seasoned entrepreneurs and CEO's included Neal Romagnolo, Brendan Lattrell, and Anthony Davenport shared advice on maintaining a work life balance while building a startup. The leading social entrepreneurs included four founders and CEO's—Jae Gardner, Janice Chong, Romone Penny, and Savera Weerasinghe—and discussed how one can do good and make a career out of it. St Elizabeth Catholic Academy board chair Joseph Sawe summed up the day's events, saying “Everything went so well because of the incredible well organized team at Harvard Ventures and thoroughly interesting speakers. It was truly a life changing experience for some of the kids and mentors who received a wonderful informative tour, a very engaging session about life at Harvard, a well moderated panel of insightful comments and a once in a lifetime opportunity to present at Harvard."

About St. Elizabeth Catholic Academy:

Throughout its nearly 130 year history, Saint Elizabeth Catholic Academy—serving students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade—has provided a foundation where a love for learning, a desire for self-reliance, and a passion to lead in Jesus Christ’s community is championed. The private Catholic school strives to become the preeminent elementary school globally and empower self-reliant Catholic leaders for generations to come. For more information, please visit http://www.stelizabethny.com.

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