Student Stars Pitch VIPs at BUILDFest

ALL CHARGED UP: Winning team Double Charge celebrates with its super-sized check at Tuesday night’s BUILDFest.


By JARIANA OLUKOGA

BOSTON—Student entrepreneurs and their benefactors got a double charge of innovation at Tuesday night’s BUILDFest.

BUILD, a nonprofit that teaches entrepreneurship skills to students in under-resourced communities, spent the evening at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel celebrating the accomplishments of this year’s young founders.

The top four teams pitched a VIP panel that included former Gov. Deval Patrick, Jerod Mayo, former New England Patriot and now VP of health tech firm Optum, Ernst & Young Managing Principal Jane Steinmetz and LogMeIn CEO William Wagner. Members of the entrepreneurship community gathered to sponsor and support the student-run businesses. Steve DiFillippo, chef and CEO of Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, emceed the event.

The team from Double Charge walked away with $2,000 in prize money for their water bottle that also charges a smartphone, besting competitors Razzle Dazzle, Roll n’ Go and Orphan Socks. The winning founders, CEO Elvis Rodriguez and CMO D’Ahmen Holloman are ninth-graders at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Roxbury.

“The night was inspiring,” said Patrick, now managing director of Bain Capital’s Double Impact program. Looking back on his own childhood, Patrick said he did not possess the entrepreneurial skills of the BUILD students at their age—he had the interest but not the mentorship or encouragement, which makes a huge difference.

“It was wonderful to see young people doing positive and constructive, real-life things. And above all, being shown by so many positive adults how to look up rather than down,” he said.

The evening, according to BUILD Boston Manager Will Leitch, was a transition from the usual annual gala, switching the focus from swanky party to pitch competition, allowing students to stand in the spotlight for their hard work. It raised more than $70,000 in the process.

A standout for the night was Amy Choi, director at Silicon Valley Bank in Boston. She accepted the award for Mentor of the Year.

“It was an incredible evening and I could not be more proud of the students’ accomplishments,” Choi said. “It has been a life-changing experience to be a part of the BUILD community for the past two years, and I feel blessed to work at a company that so strongly supports BUILD.”

Boston’s BUILD program launched in 2011 and has incubated more than 300 young entrepreneurs. The nonprofit’s goal is to enhance entrepreneurship education as a way to decrease dropout rates and prepare the next generation for financial and professional success.

In the lead-up to the Pitch Challenge, BUILD students in ninth to 11th grade showcased their innovations for the crowd. Products included handmade clothes for dolls, soaps, lip balm, sunglasses, candles and more. Some entrepreneurs were as young as 14 years old, and already displaying the entrepreneurship skills learned through the BUILD program.

Nyah Jacobs, a ninth-grader at Another Course to College (ACC), showed off her team’s creation, My Doll. “The dolls are multicultural, representing every kid around the country to prove that there’s more than just a Barbie doll on the shelf,” she said. Jacobs, along with her team members, decided to create dolls that reflected their own cultures.

Malik Albert, a ninth-grader at Community Academy of Science and Health (CASH), is one of the creators of Chappies lip balm. “They’re organic, they make your lips softer, it’s cheaper and most importantly it gives you less cracks when it’s cold outside,” Albert said of his product.

Before the winning team was announced, Rebecca Fracassa, director of community investment for Comcast stepped up with a surprise: Each student in the final four teams was awarded a free laptop plus a free year of internet service.

Mayo, the linebacker turned tech exec-in-residence for Optum, a division of UnitedHealth, said he found the evening filled with innovative ideas. “These kids are far beyond where I was at when I was 14 and 15 years old,” he said. “They have a head start in life, so stay out front and keep doing the right thing.”


BUILD Boston accepts donations of time and funding. Get involved HERE.

Got a tip for our team? News you need us to know about? Send it to GetCovered@founderswire.com