BUILD Program Turns Struggling Students into Small Business Owners

BUILD Metro DCWhat better way to engage otherwise disinterested students in their schoolwork than to show them how they can use that knowledge to start their own businesses?

That’s the idea behind BUILD Metro DC, our area’s version of the Silicon Valley nonprofit that has been providing academic support to disadvantaged students since 1999.

BUILD is a four-year program offered as a credit-bearing course to freshman in one of the organization’s five partner high schools in DC. They work with these schools to hand-select both academically disengaged and economically disadvantaged young people who they believe might not complete 9th grade, let alone high school.

Business & Academic Incubator

Once they’ve been admitted to the program, the students have access to BUILD’s 3,500 square foot co-working computer lab referred to by the team as the “Business and Academic Incubator,” which just so happens to be the largest of its kind for the region. There, they work with BUILD staff to develop and implement their own business ideas, and the organization matches them with private sector tutors who have volunteered to help them apply those concepts they learn in the classroom to their burgeoning entrepreneurial careers.

Christopher Brown, BUILD Metro DC’S Regional Executive DirectorChristopher Brown, BUILD Metro DC’S Regional Executive Director, takes a lot of pride in the impact the organization has had since it began here in 2008, and with good reason. Over 90% of the businesses that BUILD students start continue to operate for at least four years, and 100% of the students who go through the program not only graduate high school, but go on to college.

He also knows that the resources provided in the co-working computer lab are central to making that kind of success possible.

“An important part of our job,” said Brown, “is making sure that we have the infrastructure to allow students to effectively translate their ideas and help them materialize them into real products or plans that they can present for seed capital.”

Students use the BUILD computer lab to research and interact with vendors from all over the world, often times in places where English isn’t the primary language, in order to lower their cost of goods sold as much as possible. They also use it develop their business plans and then market the products once they are ready.

Brown, however, stresses that BUILD’s ultimate goal for its students is high school graduation and college admission.

“We’re really using business as a hook to propel our students through high school and onto college success,” he said. “So we have a designated part of the computer lab where our seniors are creating college lists, completing FAFSA forms, taking virtual tours of college campuses, completing college applications, and compiling those applications and personal statements, all within that college readiness incubator space.”

At 501cTECH, we’re noticing a broader trend in the use of computer lab environments by nonprofits. BUILD is an excellent example of an organization whose technological backbone is its computer lab, and we take pride in helping them keep it working smoothly so that the students can focus on more important things, like—I don’t know—starting small businesses before graduating from high school.

Topics: nonprofit technology

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