Thalia Cherry (GMLC Class of 2012) has had a busy year. In addition to assisting with our Kansas City session, she has worked to support other area entrepreneurs as they made successful application and have been selected to be vendors at the new Kansas City Airport terminal currently under construction.
Read on to learn more about Thalia’s other successful work this year:
Entrepreneurship KC, which wants to build the next generation of entrepreneurs, is being put in the spotlight through a new mini documentary.
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation teamed up with Freethink to shoot the documentary, which followed the Kansas City-based internship and entrepreneurship program for a month. During the summer, 347 area high school students participated from school districts such as Kansas City, Blue Valley, Belton, Kearney, Grandview and Olathe. A core focus is diversity, and the summer cohort was comprised of 65% Black students, 13% American Hispanic or Latino Asian, and 13% Asian American or American Indian.
The five-week program paired students with local companies to tackle a real-life problem and culminated with a capstone project in which they pitched their solutions to a panel of judges.
“It’s getting a lot of traction with a lot of businesses that have an interest in creating this magical kind of experience for young people,” said Thalia Cherry, founder of Entrepreneurship KC and athletic fashion maker Cherry Co. “We designed the model to not only enhance the business in solving a business problem, but also making sure that students get this tactical experience.”
‘Very real life’
For architecture firm BNIM, students created a master plan around affordable housing in Kansas City and did extensive research, including studying other cities. The group of students voiced interest in pitching their idea to the City Council, and Cherry has submitted a request to do so.
“That’s one of the things that is so powerful is the projects are very real life,” she said.
Another participating company was Trozzolo Communications Group, which tasked students with solving a hiring challenge for its McDonald’s client, including finding the best ways to target prospective employees 25 and younger. The group conducted market research and interviewed current employees and potential employees in the targeted age group.
“They came up with a really amazing idea to help out with those efforts,” said Julie Robinson, Trozzolo’s executive vice president of client services. “This was probably one of my favorite projects I’ve worked on all year. The energy and the enthusiasm of these students was amazing.”
The students pitched a podcast highlighting the real-world experiences of employees and uncovering lesser-known benefits, such as tuition reimbursement. They also wanted to share insider tips, such as the best time of day to get fresh fries. Their capstone idea won first place.
“One of the biggest things we were trying to instill in them was to dream big and to really tap into the creative energy they bring to the table and to recognize that their perspective and their voices are important moving forward,” Robinson said. “I think what Thalia and her team have done with Entrepreneurship KC is really groundbreaking because it opens opportunities for students across the metro area and it creates interactions for students and employers that wouldn’t happen otherwise.”
Some of the other participating companies included Delta Dental, Lillian James Creative, Byrne Pelofsky + Associates and SnapIT Solutions. In addition to hands-on experiences, Entrepreneurship KC also includes educational elements, such as financial literacy led by Anita Newton, chief innovation officer at CommunityAmerica Credit Union.
Entrepreneurship KC, which includes stipends and counts toward academic credits, aligns with the goals identified by Kauffman’s Real World Learning initiative, a framework for offering high school students the practical skills and experience necessary to navigate adult life, postsecondary education and careers.
One student, who used to stutter during public speaking, said the experience taught him how to present and gave him the confidence to no longer stutter, Cherry said. The program also helped students make friends throughout the metro, giving them a deeper appreciation for the richness of different cultures.
“Many will walk through this experience, and some will become entrepreneurs. Some will become better employees,” Cherry said. “The most important thing is they home in and know their purpose as young people.”