David Lewis, ’13, has always been passionate about education. A board member for Booth’s Alumni Club of Chicago, he also serves on the board of Chicago Hope Academy, a Christian high school on the city’s Near West Side with a student body that’s primarily Black and Latinx.
Last spring, Lewis began thinking about how he could leverage Booth’s alumni network to invest in the Hope community.
“The kids from Chicago Hope look a lot like I did when I was growing up in Gary, Indiana,” said Lewis, cofounder of Circumspect Capital. “I wanted to find a way to tap into Booth’s resources to support a cause that’s dear to my heart, particularly for this socioeconomic demographic.”
Lewis approached Chicago Hope leaders with the idea of forming a partnership between the school and Booth’s Chicago-based alumni club. The initial plan was that Booth alumni would lead a resume workshop at Hope, but the partnership quickly expanded into a four-part speaker series complemented by one-on-one mentoring.
“The goal is to help the young minds of today build businesses of tomorrow. It gives students a chance to take risks, fail, and continue to pick themselves up. Along the way, they learn important life lessons.”
“When we reached out to alumni, they told us that they wanted to do more than read a few resumes,” Lewis said. “They wanted to create relationships that allow them to not only help students build their personal brand but also be a sounding board for ideas and considerations.”
Booth’s alumni volunteers work with students in Entrepreneurship, a hands-on class designed to teach the fundamentals of building a business. Built through a partnership with Entrepreneurial Youth Experience (EYE), a Chicago-area nonprofit, the class supports students as they develop an idea for a company, launch their venture, and compete for funding in a Shark Tank–like pitch presentation to area business professionals.
This year’s students launched four ventures: Katered by Kota, a catering company; KYR Events, an event-planning business; Rose Fitness, a fitness and motivation company; and Fresh Start Glass, which creates customized art on glass. All the businesses are generating revenue and on track to earn profits—and five of this year’s students have already found jobs based on the skills they’ve learned in the workshops.
“The goal is to help the young minds of today build businesses of tomorrow,” said Bart Marchant, who teaches the Entrepreneurship class. “It gives students a chance to take risks, fail, and continue to pick themselves up. Along the way, they learn important life lessons.”
Lewis worked with Nicole Yelsey, ’12, and other alumni club leaders to create a four-part speaker series that included sessions on personal branding, resume writing, interviewing, and building a digital profile. In monthly one-on-one meetings, Booth alumni mentors helped students identify their strengths, practice telling their stories, and launch their businesses
“My relationship with my mentor has been so helpful; I know I can talk to her about anything. She has helped me so much with becoming more comfortable with the interview process and how to work in a team."
“Over the course of the year, I’ve been working with a young woman who’s very driven and entrepreneurial,” said Sarah Alexander ’15, a consultant with Boston Consulting Group in Summit, New Jersey. “She has her own dog-walking and babysitting businesses and a lot of additional ideas, and it’s been rewarding to see her grow.”
Alexander’s mentee, Ashley Robles, said the support has been instrumental as she prepares for her next steps.
“My relationship with my mentor has been so helpful; I know I can talk to her about anything,” Robles said. “She has helped me so much with becoming more comfortable with the interview process and how to work in a team. Having a mentor is like having a professional best friend.”
Alexander added that the mentors are getting just as much out of the program as the teenagers. “I didn’t go into this with any goal in mind but to give back to the next generation, but seeing Ashley’s enthusiasm has been really energizing for me,” she said. “And in sharing my experience with her, I’ve realized how much I’ve grown in my own entrepreneurial experience. That gave me insights into how to shape my story for my own career pivot.”
Another student participant, Davarey McClain, said that having a mentor had set him up for success. “My mentor has helped me through my hard times and he has given me absolute feedback,” he said. “He told me to be myself before my Shark Tank pitch with my team and boosted up my confidence.”
Organizers said they plan to build on the program’s success this year to continue growing the partnership.
“We want these students to believe that they can compete anywhere, even if they don’t come from a certain zip code. And we’ve started to see traces of that as they engaged more and more with us throughout the seminars,” Lewis said. “I see the relationship blossoming. I see us being able to have a greater presence, and that will allow us to have a greater impact.”
“Our long-term goal is to get our students and alumni plugged in to internship and job opportunities,” Marchant added. “These are students who can achieve as much as anyone. We just need to put them in front of those opportunities to be successful.”
For more information about Booth’s partnership with Chicago Hope Academy, contact the Booth Alumni Club of Chicago.