Inspiring the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

with Ayele Shakur of BUILD

E-learning presents new opportunities for innovation. Ayele Shakur, CEO of BUILD, shares how youth can leverage technology to build pathways to entrepreneurship beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

Posted on:

Oct 02, 2020

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: As many school districts across the nation continue to conduct online classes, keeping students engaged is a top concern. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Inspiring high school students in the midst of COVID-19 restrictions can be a challenge, as my guest, Ayele Shakur, knows. She is the C.E.O. of BUILD. Ayele, thank you so much for being here. So, you work in underserved communities, and you arm students with the tools for entrepreneurship. But it seems like when you think about underserved communities and entrepreneurship, there doesn't seem to be a natural connection. But I know that BUILD says there is. So explain that for us.

Shakur: Well, absolutely. Entrepreneurship is ultimately about empowerment, it's about ownership, and it's really about self-agency. And so, for young people, when they become the entrepreneurs in our BUILD program, they're stepping into these roles as C.E.O.s and C.F.O.s. And they're really owning the ideas that they have and bringing those ideas to life. And that's such a fundamentally transformational experience for young people, particularly in underserved communities, where they may not feel a sense of ownership and power.

Anderson: So, specifically, what's going on in some of these places that really creates a need for a bridge like BUILD?

Shakur: Well, there are about 15 million children living in poverty in the United States. And what many of those young people have in common is that they don't have access to high-quality educational experiences. And so that's something that we need to change as a nation. With BUILD, we go into our public schools and we work specifically with schools that have the highest need, because we know that those are the schools where there are young people with incredible, wonderful ideas and incredible promise, but they need the opportunities to have these enriching experiences. And so we'll go into the schools and we teach people how to actually launch new businesses when they're just 14 and 15 years old, starting out in high school.

Anderson: So, what are some of the businesses that we're talking about? What are these students doing?

Shakur: There are just thousands of businesses in BUILD. Our young people are just so creative. And they come up with all of these ideas after going through an ideation process. So we've had businesses that would be school supplies, kitchen gadgets. We had one team that came up with the Flavor Saver, that was designed to make their cafeteria food taste better. Our highest-grossing team is a team called Cookie Boss. And they actually put logos onto cookies, and they have corporate clients like Bank of America. That team has done over $30,000 in sales.

Anderson: That's incredible. And I know, since 1999, BUILD has worked with students that have created over 10,000 businesses. Some of those students have gone on to run those businesses after high school. They all run them during high school. But being an entrepreneur isn't the whole point here. There's a larger goal with BUILD. Will you talk to us about what that is?

Shakur: Absolutely correct. The larger goal is really about life success. In fact, we say, in BUILD, entrepreneurship is the hook, but college and careers are the ultimate goal. And so, for us, it's really about using entrepreneurship to teach students those 21st-century skills that we call spark skills -- communication, collaboration, problem-solving, innovation, grit, and self-management. And those are the skills, those are the tools that young people need to succeed in life. And they learn those skills through entrepreneurship.

Anderson: So, you guys have a lot of different ways to engage these students, and the latest one is called the COVID-19 Virtual Design Challenge. And I should mention that it is in partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal. What is that design challenge, and why did you guys choose to shape it around COVID-19?

Shakur: Well, with our BUILD program, we actually offer that program in school, during the school day, as an elective. So, when all of our schools had to pivot overnight to delivering online classes, BUILD had to do the same with our BUILD class. And so we wanted to deliver a program that would help young people deal with the anxiety and fear over COVID and turn that fear into a sense of power and purpose. And so, with the COVID-19 Virtual Design Challenge, students are creating youth-driven solutions to promote mental and physical wellness in the midst of the pandemic. The Challenge is free. It's open and available for middle school and high school teachers to use with their classes all across the country. And we're already seeing great ideas flow in. We're offering cash prizes and really just the opportunity for students, again, to turn a really difficult time in our nation's history into a real understanding of principles of design, thinking, entrepreneurial mindset as they come up with their solutions.

Anderson: And I know that during this difficult time of the COVID-19 pandemic, you guys are also working with schools across the nation to sort of reimagine the way high school takes place. What are you doing?

Shakur: Absolutely. We're taking the same design principles from the COVID-19 Virtual Design Challenge, and we're using those design principles to work with school districts to help them build the future of education. So we're really running designs, plans with school leaders, with principals, parents, students, community-based organizations, Out-of-School Time providers, university partners, and employers, all coming together to think through and reimagine how we bring learning into the digital age. We're starting that work in partnership with the Boston Public Schools, and we're planning to bring that all across the country to other school districts, as well.

Anderson: So, if people want to find out more about BUILD or the Virtual Design Challenge, quickly tell us what your website is.

Shakur: They can learn more at

Anderson: Ayele Shakur, C.E.O. of BUILD, thank you for being here.

Shakur: Thank you so much for having me.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, be sure to visit. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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