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VOL. 129 | NO. 142 | Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Teach for America Leverages Start Co. Resources

ANDRE FOWLKES | Special to The Daily News

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Andre Fowlkes

Education reform has been alive and well here in Memphis over the last few years. There have been many great initiatives established to secure dollars and establish programming to move our youth forward. As always, I am thinking of scale, sustainability and innovation to stay relevant.

Teach for America is one effort that has been growing strong since it landed in Memphis in 2006, especially given our struggles with only 4 percent of high school students graduating college ready and 26 percent holding a bachelor’s degree in the metro area, according to Teach for America. Its mission is valiant, “growing the movement of leaders who work to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education.”

It has been interesting to see how entrepreneurship is taking root as a means to further Teach for America’s mission. Let’s face it, TFA is a startup. A startup that began in 1989, but nonetheless its model is original, innovative and scalable. It’s no wonder that entrepreneurs are spawning out of its corps, and we are seeing that right here in Memphis in terms of advancing education.

At Start Co., we have had the privilege to work with two corps members who are using entrepreneurship to advance youth in education.

Gabriel Fotsing, originally from Cameroon and a Harvard graduate in economics, has created The College Initiative, a nonprofit that is achieving 100 percent placement of inner-city kids into college. He actually just achieved his first placement into Harvard. Gabriel is reinventing himself and his social business model by going through our Sky High accelerator program this summer. This is 110 days of him being groomed into a better person/professional, validating his nonprofit by going through intense customer discovery, prototyping and intense business modeling. He is benefiting from the rigors of a startup accelerator as well as a curriculum based on ”The Power of Social Innovation,” by Stephen Goldsmith, director of the Innovations in Government program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Then there is Hardy Farrow, who is currently a TFA instructor at the Power Center Academy right here in Memphis. At the start of this month he was selected as one of five winners of Symantec’s (global technology company) 12th Annual Innovation in Teaching Awards for the entrepreneurship curriculum he created to enhance his students’ education and life skills. Built as a means to directly move our community forward while also providing his students with a unique education, Farrow’s 11th grade students built real businesses/social efforts that improved their respective communities. Hardy did not stop here: he joined our Start University program to improve his teaching ability and his idea. He is at Start Co. improving his teachings and tightening his business model, as he knows that learning through apprenticeship is the difference maker. Hardy has aspirations to stay in Memphis after his two years are up with TFA to continue his work with youth.

At the end of the day, teaching people how to create positive change through entrepreneurship is the means to navigating our new economy. We are happy to see these principles and methods helping those in the fields of education and social innovation. These two individuals really exemplify the notion that entrepreneurship is for everyone. There are so many problems to solve in our community; more should look at how Fotsing, Farrow and Teach for America have used entrepreneurship to advance.

Andre Fowlkes is president of Start Co.

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