.boston in Focus: How Build is Using Entrepreneurship to Get Students on the Right Track

October 5, 2017

This is a Q&A with Ayele Shakur is the Regional Executive Director of BUILD for the Greater Boston area (www.buildin.boston). She launched the program in 2010.

Tell us a little bit about Build Boston.

Build is a youth entrepreneurship program designed for high school students. Our program is designed to work with students who are disengaged or doing poorly, and we use entrepreneurship to help get them on track and ultimately go into successful careers.

There are a number of students here in Boston that are at risk of failure or dropping out -- but it is not because they are not capable. Poor academic performance might be related to problems at home, bad experiences in middle school, or something else.

We help put them on track to start and run their own businesses, so that they see their own strength and capabilities. Right now, we work with 400 students, and we work to motivate students through entrepreneurship. Since 2010, we have helped these students succeed not just in high school, but go on to succeed in college, whether they are studying business, or to be doctors, nurses or lawyers.

Our most successful business, Cookie Boss, has done more than $40,000 in sales. It puts corporate logos on cookies, and has sponsorships from Bank of America, John Hancock, and the Boston Red Sox. The founder of that program started it when she was 14, and is now a junior at Bentley. It is an incredible success.

How did Build come to Boston? How did you get involved?

Three managing directors from Bain Capital were instrumental in getting us started. They did a feasibility study of the area and the program, and really laid all the groundwork. Three years later, I came on board.

I was running a non-profit in the education space, the Boston Learning Center, a tutoring center in kindergarten. I was already focused on the issue of disengagement, and this was a perfect fit for me. We already had an entrepreneurial focus, and were working on a motivational program for the kids we work with.

How does Build get students motivated?

Research from the Gates Foundation says that lack of motivation is the number one reason for students dropping out of high school. It is not always lack of ability from the students, but it is that lack of motivation.

We work to show students the possibilities in the world through entrepreneurship, so that they have that motivation.

At Build, we say entrepreneurship is the hook, but college is the goal. Whether or not the businesses we help students with are successful or really take off, we just want to engage our students and really motivate them.

Not all of our students go on to study business in college -- our hope is that they find their passion and go on to be successful. We use experiential learning to engage them -- to connect them to business and help motivate them.

How does a .boston domain help further your mission?

Our goal is to be the premiere youth entrepreneurship in the city Boston. We consider ourselves a vibrant part of the ecosystem in Boston, and this is another way we can build our brand in Boston.

We are a national program -- we have chapters in Oakland, New York City, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles -- but this is a way we can differentiate the Boston chapter and continue to establish our brand.

More and more people are getting involved in Boston, and there are tons of ways to get involved, from 2 hours a week to 2 days a week. And it is not just a great experience for the students, it is also great for the entrepreneurs that work with the students and invest in them. They go into the schools, work with the students, and it is a two-way experience -- they are getting something they might otherwise have never experienced.

We want www.buildin.boston to be right at the center of youth-focused entrepreneurship -- and not just in the Seaport or the Innovation District. We want to engage students from Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, and open the world to them.

The .boston domain launches on October 10th and this series takes a look at the faces behind the local organizations and companies that are using this new digital real estate to enhance their Boston brand and make their businesses more discoverable online. For more information visit www.hub.boston

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