Waterloo Program Empowers Students Of Color To Be Young Entrepreneurs

Photo via SHIPHT website

By Rachelle Chase
September 25, 2020

SHIPHT Youth Opportunity Accelerator for high school students launches September 26, 2020. Saturday’s kickoff will be a Pitch Camp, at which entrepreneurs, STEM professionals, and others will be keynote speakers, followed by seven weeks of Saturday sessions spent learning from local experts and working on a business idea. The program will culminate with the presentation of ideas to a “Shark Tank”-like panel of judges.

SHIPHT (pronounced Shift) is “a business, entrepreneurship, tech, and public sector leadership curriculum, aiming to introduce underrepresented youth to career opportunities with mentorship, experiential learning, business fundamentals” and more.

“Kids of color don’t necessarily get to see themselves in marketing positions or STEM positions,” said Joy Briscoe, SHIPHT Founder and Talent Acquisition and Outreach Specialist at Waterloo Schools & Career Center. “Then they don’t necessarily envision that as a career path.”

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But after talking to students she found that they were very interested in entrepreneurship. Even if they weren’t necessarily interested in running a business, they wanted to be involved.

That got Briscoe thinking.

“What if we took those tenets of innovation, ingenuity that you need to be an entrepreneur, but we also assign it to other careers that kids could consider?” she asked.

To do this she realized that first she had to get young adults to think about what opportunity could look like for them, outside of the norm, in a way that would really hook them.

“I reached out to the John Pappajohn Center and kind of said, ‘hey, I’ve kind of done these things before and I’ve done some smaller programming before. I’ve done some fashion and STEM camps. I’ve done some technology camps,’” Briscoe said, adding that these were small projects.

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“Small” is an understatement. For six years or so, Briscoe has run the Cedar Valley Fashion, Art and Culture Expo, which she said has grown to be one of the largest multicultural events in the Cedar Valley.

Realizing she needed someone who could help her turn her idea into something long-term that would have lasting impact, Briscoe turned to Lindi Roelofse, Academic Program Manager at UNI-John Pappajohn Entrepreneurship Center.

Roelofse’s background is in research and applied innovation, where she gets people to think creatively about problems—society’s problems, business problems, or underutilized opportunities because people in power may not be thinking about or be motivated to solve the problems.

Roelofse liked the idea of taking things that really matter to students and turning them into a market opportunity.

“We’re hoping that some of them succeed in a cashflow situation,” said Roelofse. “But more than that, we’d like them to start thinking and practicing the tools, the skills, the vocabulary, the exhilaration you get from creating something out of something that wasn’t there before.”

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To be successful in this, Roelofse had to ensure that students could have meaningful interpersonal relationships and collaborate successfully with other students while participating virtually.

And speaking of students, they needed to begin recruiting them to participate. That’s where Lori Dale came in.

Dale got involved when a mutual friend, Joyce Levinston, Director of One City’s Momentum Urban Employment Initiative, brought her in. Dale has a Bachelors in Art with an emphasis in Photography, a Masters in Art with an emphasis in Ceramics, and a love of youth. That, and her experience as a recruiter, currently at UNI-CUE Educational Talent Search, made her the ideal candidate.

“What Educational Talent Search does,” said Dale, “is we help young people get into some form of post-secondary education. So it could be a 4-year college, 2-year college, trade of some sort. It could be cosmetology, it could be nursing. That’s our goal, to make sure that they can go into society and do some form of trade.”

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Dale has invited 300 students—mostly 10th through 12th graders—to participate. Though emails have been sent, Dade plans to follow-up with phone calls, especially to ones that they really think are mature enough to handle the program.

The program—or Youth Opportunity Accelerator—begins with Saturday’s Pitch Camp.

“Pitch Camp, what it essentially does, is give them [students] a starting ground so that they actually see entrepreneurs or people in STEM that have been successful that look like them,” said Briscoe.


Speakers include BLK and Bold Specialty Coffee, whose products are now available in Target; Solomon Lacy of Fresh Start Financials Group; Dr. Kristina Cook, whose father is also a doctor, Dr. Michael Cook; and Ryan Stevenson, Political Strategist.

“I like his [Stevenson’s] story,” said Briscoe. “Because he has a nontraditional background where he’s been in some trouble, he’s had some bumps and bruises along the way, but he can definitely speak to how when that happens, you can still go on and be successful.”

James “Corye” Johnson will close out the session with a motivational keynote.

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Roelofse gave a run down of what’s in store for students for the seven weeks following the kickoff.

Each week will have a different theme. A speaker with expertise related to the topic will give a presentation, then students will have time to work on their project, with help from mentors. A high-level overview of the topics for the post-launch sessions (excluding the final Pitch Night) are as follows:

  • World Cafe (full 90 minutes)
  • What and who inspires me as an innovator?
  • How do we discover more about our idea?
  • How do we prove/prototype our idea?
  • How do we market our idea?
  • How do we fund our idea?
  • How do we pitch our idea?

SHIPHT is one effort, but there are other entrepreneurial initiatives underway as well.

“I started working with Lindi on the Youth Accelerator first,” said Briscoe. “And then a group of us formed the 24/7 Black Leadership Advancement Consortium. That was an intentional approach in addressing those barriers and those areas that came out of the 24/7 Wall Street Report.” (The 2018 24/17 Wall Street report labeled Waterloo-Cedar Falls as the #1 worst place for Black people to live.)

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Since they discovered that minority-owned businesses, specifically Black-owned businesses, don’t receive the same level of support and have a more difficult time building relationships with banks, among other things, the Consortium wanted to look at how to infuse opportunity into Black entrepreneurs in Waterloo.

The Cedar Valley Minority Business Entrepreneurship & Accelerator (MBEA) is one program that does that. MBEA found 7-8 entrepreneurs that had been around for awhile and offered to help build their businesses. “But there was so much demand, we have doubled that,” said Roelofse.

All these efforts have not gone unnoticed.

A major corporation that Briscoe can’t publicly name just yet said, “there’s this little town in the Midwest that has been designated the worst place for Black people, but in the period of COVID, they’ve just become this center for innovation and productivity.”

Briscoe was so excited to hear that. “I texted Mayor Hart, ‘guess what they said!’”

To register for SHIPHT Youth Opportunity Accelerator , visit: https://forms.gle/oAmFMxZjDk131yPk6


by Rachelle Chase
Posted 9/25/20

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