Memphis Teens Are #Winning With LITE Memphis

Posted by Holly Whitfield | April 27th 2018 849 0

Right now, a group of motivated Memphis high schoolers are preparing business pitches for the upcoming LITE Pitch Night, when their entrepreneurial dreams (or, okay, at least their project funding wishes) could come true.

LITE student Jalen Washington pitching at Pitch Night in winter 2016. Jalen’s idea was Man Up, a mentorship program that matches young men who don’t have father figures in their lives with a mentor that can provide guidance and support through meaningful relationships.

LITE – Let’s Innovate Through Education – is a local program for high schoolers, and Pitch Night is LITE’s culmination of months of work with these students to develop business and non-profit ideas. The audience at Pitch Night (that’s you!) will vote on the best ideas, and those students will receive more funding.

The event is Thursday, May 3 at Clayborn Temple. During the evening, eight students will present their ideas onstage and 26 other students will pitch their ideas on the floor. You can watch quick pitches and vote for which students will get to present onstage by clicking here.

But let’s talk a little more about LITE.

A group of LITE students at our Kick-Off event where all the students get to meet at the beginning of each program session. Throughout the day, the break out into different team building activities and parents come to network and meet the staff.

It started in 2013 as a Teach For America classroom project involving three students, and has now grown to serve multiple schools and dozens of students. According to Alexandra Thompson, LITE’s Outreach Assistant, the six-month program includes weekly lessons on networking, teamwork, budgeting, and entrepreneurship.

Organizers focus on Shelby County Schools with predominantly Latinx or African American student populations. The specific goal of the program is “…to equip African-American and Latinx students with 21st-century skills to create wealth.”

Every student gets up to $1000 to get their idea going, from hosting events to having apps developed. Then, they present at Pitch Night. Students who receive audience awards from Pitch Night receive even more funding to carry the idea (which can be a business or a non-profit) to the next level.

LITE students with coach mentor Doc Dillard at a weekly session. Doc works at Melrose High School.

Business and Non-Profit Ideas

What kinds of ideas do these smart young people have? Alexandra told me about a few from past years. Myles Franklin hosted resume-building workshops for teens called Resumade. Another student, Talia Owens, developed theater workshops for after-school programs to introduce minority communities to theater called Create The Stage. Both students are now in college and on to other projects and entrepreneurial ideas.

This year, there’s a wedding planning app that connects brides- and grooms-to-be to local vendors. Another student is working on a program where users can trade skill lessons with one another. For example, I teach you how to play the piano and I get credits through the app/program that I can use to take a cooking class with a chef. And so on.

LITE students with a coach mentor at one of our weekly sessions. Theo, our coach mentor, has been part of the program for almost two years now and is great at empowering the students.

LITE’s Success

Alexandra explained that the goal is not necessarily to make these exact ideas become long-term businesses or non-profit projects, but more to give these students valuable experience. My first thought was, “Wow, these projects would be perfect for college applications and resumes.” And it’s true.

She told me that “about 98 percent” of LITE alumni are enrolled in full-time college and most received scholarship dollars. One student was even offered a full-ride scholarship on the spot after her pitch on Pitch Night. (wow!)

Another fun fact is that LITE recently got a $20,000 Renewal Award, an Allstate grant. They’ll use this money to fund more projects for more Memphis students. In 2016, Forbes said it was one of the “20 Ideas That Could Change The World.”

LITE student Jalen Washington pitching at Pitch Night in winter 2016. Jalen’s idea was Man Up, a mentorship program that matches young men who don’t have father figures in their lives with a mentor that can provide guidance and support through meaningful relationships.

How You Can Help

You can read more stats on LITE’s success in Memphis here, but I also want to encourage you to get involved by voting for your favorite ideas. I don’t want to show any favoritism, but there are some good ones this year! Even better, you can plan to attend LITE Pitch Night on May 3 at Clayborn Temple. It’s from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and while it’s free to attend, space is limited and you need to register right away.

How awesome would it be for these student to see that the Memphis community is excited about their work, their ideas, and, you know, them?

Go There:

LITE Pitch Night
May 3, 2018
Clayborn Temple
5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Register here.

https://www.litememphis.com/pitch-night/

All photos provided by LITE Memphis and used with permission.


Author: Holly Whitfield

I write about what’s going on with Memphis music, food, arts, events, sports, people, and culture. Memphians love Elvis and barbeque with a passion that must be seen to be believed, but there is so much more to this place.

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