BUILD preps students for entrepreneurship, college

Sandra Larson | 6/13/2012, 9:28 a.m.
Entrepreneurship students from Charlestown High School receive their prize money for winning the BUILD Youth Business Plan Competition. (L-R): Jeff Glass, board chair for BUILD’s Boston local advisory board, with Dream Team members Kevin Melara, VP Manufacturing and Design; Romane Sorrell, CFO; Julian Medina, COO; Malik Alfred, VP Marketing and Sales; and Cristhian Belisario, CEO. Sandra Larson

At the competition, students on stage were mature and poised, but adolescent energy dominated the room. Teens clapped and whooped for their friends and classmates. The most deafening cheers and whistles came when their teachers stood on stage. Hugh Coleman of Burke High, Chris Mee of Another Course to College, Darien Cooper of CASH, and Edson Cardoso of Charlestown High were acknowledged for their work teaching the five-day-a-week entrepreneurship class that all BUILD students take in the first year.

Cardoso, who taught the Dream Team members and 20 other participants this year, has no trouble seeing a connection between training kids to start a business and encouraging them to go to college.

“Entrepreneurship gives them that hook, that motivation, to stay in school,” he said, speaking by telephone after the event. “They can think outside the box, come up with some creative ideas. For some, (entrepreneurship) is their highest grade – but then they have hope they can get good grades in other courses.”

In all, 20 teams of entrepreneurs pitched their products in the daylong competition. Products included customized eyeglass clip-ons, a pen with a built-in MP3 player, inspirational T-shirts and cleaning gloves with built-in sponges and soap.

By afternoon, the field was narrowed to one team from each school. At the end, after each team presented its product design, projected revenue and marketing plan, the Dream Team took first prize. The other three finalist teams were Convert-a-Casers from Another Course to College, who pitched a backpack/courier bag combo; Muzentil Media of Burke High, with the MP3 player/pen; and Team Pro from CASH, with a unique customizable pillowcase.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino was one of the event’s speakers. He urged the kids to work hard in high school and college and return to Boston to start their careers.

“We need you,” Menino told them. “We can use your ideas in our Innovation District on the waterfront. Young entrepreneurs there are doing what you’re doing today.”

While the top finishers won some extra cash to divide among themselves, all the teams will continue to develop their products. In year two, they’ll move on to manufacturing, financing and selling. Some could begin to see actual profits.

Tanisha Amazan, 16,  is VP of manufacturing and design for Convert-A-Casers. Though her team didn’t come out at the very top, she is thrilled about the experience BUILD has given her, including developing the look of the product and logo, and the intensive practice in public speaking.

“I’m a shy person, but I’ve learned to overcome that,” she said, speaking after the competition was over. “BUILD is an eye opener. It’s hard to describe the amazing opportunity. Mr. Mee encouraged me to try my best and get through it. My family is really excited, really proud of me.”

Each BUILD team is assigned a pair of mentors who meet with the students one afternoon each week to brainstorm, help create a marketing plan and coach them on their presentations.

Shonak Patel, an entrepreneur and co-founder of two education-related ventures, is one of the Dream Team’s mentors.