31 Teams Survive the Youth Venture Shark Tank

A juice bar.
A custom refurbished sneaker business.
An Uber-like app for youth employment opportunities.

If these sound like legitimate business ideas that you’d hear at a start-up challenge or on television’s Shark Tank, you’re right.  They just happen to have been to be pitched by teenage entrepreneurs in Boston at the annual Youth Venture Pitch Event.

As part of United Way’s Youth Venture program, 31 teams arrived at Simmons College on Saturday, December 12th ready to pitch their ideas, Shark Tank-style, to volunteer judges from Boston’s business community and earn up to $1,000 in seed funding to launch their business.

Over 200 youth and 80 volunteers participated in this unique youth entrepreneurship program that connects the creativity and talent of young people with the skills and experience of local business professionals — all to help our young leaders gain the skills and the resources to launch their own community-benefiting business ideas.

“A lot of people like to say that young people are our future leaders, but I don’t think that’s true. I think they are our leaders today.  And Youth Venture is giving them a unique opportunity to lead NOW,” said Shari Davis, City of Boston Director of Youth Engagement.

As a condition of the funding, Youth Venture pitches must all incorporate a community-benefiting aspect to their business plan.  Some develop non-profits that rely on donated goods and services to solve for a particular community issue, while others are more traditional business models that fulfill a community need – like youth employment.

One team from the Boston Centers for Youth & Families Mildred Avenue community center in Mattapan pitched their business “Quality Kicks for Kids” – a thrift shop that will refurbish and design custom sneakers.

Knowing that many teens in their community can’t afford new sneakers and clothes and are often bullied for it, the thrift shop business will help neighborhood kids get fresh new gear.  The shop will rely on donated sneakers and clothing, with students painting and refurbishing the sneakers to sell at a small cost.  Kids who cannot afford even that will have the option to earn “credits” toward the thrift store by volunteering in the community center.

The team presented their business plan for the thrift shop to a panel of volunteers who offered praise and constructive feedback, including suggestions on how to market the shop and other ways to aqcuire donated goods.  With a well thought out business plan and budget, and a strong presentation, “Quality Kicks for Kids” was awarded the full $1,000 in seed funding to start implanting the plan and launch their thrift shop.

“It’s an awesome idea and I was blown away by their creativity.  You could tell they really worked hard on their pitch,” said the panel facilitator, Sarah Link.

Most of the volunteers who participated as team mentors and panelists are young professionals from Boston’s business community, many of whom see the program as a unique opportunity to give back and start getting involved in their community.

Dane Letcavage is a member of the Youth Venture advisory Board who first got involved at The Pitch event last year.  This year, Dane brought six of his colleagues from Criteo who were all eager to volunteer.

“When I told them about Youth Venture, they were energized about an opportunity to apply their education and business skills to a program where they could have a direct impact. We all want to give these kids the business education that we didn’t have in school, along with the confidence to follow their own dreams and aspirations,” he explained.

The volunteers came from several companies and industries across the city, including Criteo, Hubspot, Stax, Summit Partners, Deloitte, Brown Brothers Harriman, State Street, National Grid, and more.

Over the coming months, teams will work to implement their ventures using their seed funding.  They will next come together at a Consulting Day in March, where teams will have the opportunity to check in with professionals volunteers and troubleshoot any roadblocks they’ve encountered in launching their businesses. Volunteer “consultants” will help guide them through specific problems, from budget issues to marketing questions.

Interested in volunteering as a Consultant?
SIGN UP to join us on Saturday, March 12th.

Read more about Youth Venture:
Youth Venture is on FIRE!
United Way Wins Major Citi Foundation Grant to Grow Youth Venture Program

Learn more about Youth Venture volunteer opportunities. For more information email Sam Zito at szito@unitedwaymassbay.org