Partnership brings freshmen at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School to TU, builds entrepreneurship skills
Fourteen- and 15-year-old entrepreneurs took the floor at the StarTUp at the Armory on Feb. 23 to pitch business ideas addressing some of the biggest problems young people face today, from helping teens find work to connecting young people with mental health resources.
The pitch event was the culmination of the first cohort in Towson University’s Youth Entrepreneurship Program, a partnership between Entrepreneurship @ TU, BTU—Partnerships for Greater Baltimore and Cristo Rey Jesuit High School.
The program grew from an existing partnership between TU and Cristo Rey Jesuit that placed high school students in internships throughout the university. When the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the program, the partners saw a prospect for a new type of engagement.
“Because our freshmen did not have the opportunity to go on-site to jobs, there was a gap in their learning curriculum in business readiness,” says Michelle Mallen, assistant director of student performance at Cristo Rey Jesuit. “The partnership with TU has helped us give our students a wonderful opportunity to see a college campus and learn outside of the classroom.”
The hands-on, interactive program takes place over four weeks and provides a foundation in all aspects of being an entrepreneur, from ideation to working collaboratively in teams through storytelling, selling and pitching. TU will host about 100 Cristo Rey Jesuit students this spring across four month-long cohorts.
This initiative is designed and delivered by the Entrepreneurship @ TU team, TU faculty and students and guest speakers from TU's StarTUp Accelerator. Programming takes place across campus, including the StarTUp at the Armory, College of Education and College of Business & Economics. Support from BTU made the collaboration possible, including funding for four TU student employees.
“We're all about growing entrepreneurial thinking,” says Ardys Russakis, senior strategist for BTU and anchor initiatives. “Working with youth is key in growing not just the students who are here now but the students who will be here in the future.”
The program supports TU’s identity as a community-engaged institution. “Part of it is reaching back out to our community,” Russakis adds, “and helping them see themselves in a space and find value in the ideas and visions that they have.”
The program also offers learning opportunities for Towson University student entrepreneurs. Maria Lopez, a junior majoring in sociology, is part of a team facilitating the program alongside StarTUp staff.
“I hope to have my own mentorship program, so having this opportunity to work with students is giving me experience that I can use in the future,” says Lopez. “Many people dream about being their own boss, but not many schools have these specific classes. I love that [the high schoolers] are gaining skills at this age and can think about ideas for their future.”
Kayla Hurley, a senior majoring in electronic media and film and minoring in entrepreneurship, leads the Cristo Rey Jesuit students in a reflection and review process at each session. “They’ve blossomed, bloomed and took my breath away from week one to week four,” Hurley says. “Seeing the progress is so rewarding for me and even more so for them.”
Before the program, Cristo Rey Jesuit student Damond Walker said coming up with a business idea seemed complex and intimidating. But developing his team’s pitch for Matchup, an app that helps users choose an outfit in the morning, “really showed me how easy it could be,” he added.
Walker’s classmate Kayden O’Briant, whose team pitched Zap!, a company that provides energy boosts through snacks and drinks, agrees.
“I like being able to work with different people and create a business from scratch from just our ideas and the problems we face,” O’Briant says. “To present our pitch in front of all these college students—I felt joy.”
TU will host two more cohorts in March and April. Each will consist of a four-day program on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Interested in supporting this program? Email Ardys Russakis for details.