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• Jul 9, 2019

Organization gives inner-city youths the opportunity for entrepreneurship and tools to pursue their goals

Underprivileged kids don't often get a chance to pitch a business plan. But as two TD Bank employees have discovered through their work with the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, inner-city youths have a whole lot of ideas. They just need to be given the opportunity and tools to pursue their goals.

Start-up skills

Better known as NFTE (pronounced “nifty"), the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship serves to build entrepreneurial skills in youths from under-resourced communities through educational courses and competitions. A volunteer network of successful entrepreneurs and business people works with these young people to support classroom activities and competitions. The various programs range from foundational entrepreneurial courses that teach students how to come up with an idea and business plan to competitions in which students can win seed money for their venture (think Shark Tank for teenagers).

"NFTE shows kids how to be entrepreneurial," said Christopher Simco, a TD Bank Emerging Payments Product Manager, who first got involved with NFTE several years ago and has twice judged competitions in West Philadelphia. "It's empowering for them to realize that an idea doesn't need to be groundbreaking. There just has to be a need that we can focus on."

Finding connections

Both Christopher and his colleague Claude Lawrence, a Fintech Intel and Innovation, US Payments Senior Manager, have seen the positive effect that comes with working with kids in need. They worked with the students at Camden Big Picture Learning Academy to develop their ideas, asking prodding questions, such as what do they see that no longer works in an industry and how could they fix those things? Claude highlighted a student who discovered it was cheaper to buy sports jerseys outside of the team's home market and suggested starting an online jersey exchange with other cities. "The idea doesn't need to be groundbreaking," Christopher said. "It's just about finding a need for something."

"They're teenagers and they don't want to be too excited," Claude said. "But as we started talking to them that way then they'd light up with their ideas."

Looking to the future

According to Claude, one of the most important aspects of the program is how it exposes kids to people in different professions. Claude himself grew up going to inner-city public schools and was lucky to have parents who encouraged educational and professional pursuits. But, he pointed out, this is not always the case. "Kids of that age and socioeconomic status don't always see people in suits going to work. That has a huge effect on their psyche."

Learning from each other

The teaching experience was mutually beneficial for Christopher and Claude, who both said they learned a lot from the students. "I work in payments and I've been thinking a lot about how Gen Z is thinking about that," Christopher said. NFTE provided the opportunity to learn how the younger generation uses payment systems on an everyday basis.

"This is a symbiotic relationship," Chris said. "We can ask students what they think about ideas as much as they're asking us. So just as much as we provide guidance to the students, they're inspiring us."

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