DETROIT, July 27, 2004 — Just a few months ago, Text and Tutor Connection Inc., an Internet-based business providing online tutoring and new and used textbooks, was only a dream for Tonitta Fisher, Terance Garrett, Tariq A. Scott and Marcus J. Thomas Jr. The company’s founders participated in a new program, Making the Business: Youth IT Challenge, and worked collaboratively over the past six months to generate the idea for this new Internet-based business and develop a comprehensive business plan for competition against teams in three other cities: Dallas, Los Angeles and New York. The four Chicago-based entrepreneurs received $15,000 in prizes from program sponsor Microsoft Corp. at the National Urban League Annual Conference in Detroit for their business idea.
These entrepreneurs are no ordinary ones; they are minority high school students from Chicago who participated in a new apprentice-like program jointly created by Microsoft and the National Urban League with the goal of encouraging technology-based entrepreneurship among minority youth.
“When I first heard about the Youth IT Challenge I liked the idea of learning about technology and how to become an entrepreneur,” said Tonitta Fisher, president and CEO of Text and Tutor Connection Inc. “Working with my team to develop a business was a challenge, but having the opportunity to travel and compete against other kids made the hard work worthwhile.”
The Youth IT Challenge was hosted at local Urban League affiliates in the four cities, and Microsoft and the National Urban League worked in tandem to create and deliver a content-rich program, educating students on business concepts and processes and how technology can be integrated into both. The national competition was the culmination of more than 90 hours of instruction, planning and preparation to ready these entrepreneurs to compete for the $15,000 in prizes.
“Microsoft’s mission of helping others realize their potential through technology is consistent with the League’s mission of empowering emerging communities,” said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. “Through the Youth IT Challenge, the National Urban League and Microsoft are empowering youth through education and mentorship in business and technology skills. These youths are the future Bill Gateses and Reginald Lewises, and we commend Microsoft for its commitment and contribution to the League’s empowerment movement.”
The program combined technology and business by using traditional classroom instruction, guest speakers and field trips to local Internet companies. Students honed their leadership, teamwork and presentation skills while learning about Internet-based business models and how technology can optimize a company’s operations.
“At Microsoft, we are committed to creating programs such as the Youth IT Challenge that result in the advancement of emerging and underserved communities,” said Gayle Cruise, group manager for diversity marketing and communications at Microsoft. “The Youth IT Challenge provides education that enables young learners to realize their full potential by arming them with technology proficiency and sharpening their presentation, communication and financial skills.”
Through local competitions, examinations and peer selection, students won the opportunity to represent their cities at the national contest and came one step closer to implementing their business plans. The students presented their business concepts and fielded questions from a distinguished panel of judges at the national competition, including Detroit entrepreneur Jay P. Harrison, president and CTO of Internet Operations Center Inc.; Richard Temkin, district director for the Small Business Administration; and Drew Costakis, solution sales manager for Microsoft.
In the end, leaders of the Text and Tutor Connection Inc., representing the Chicago Urban League, came out first. Also placing in the competition were the Los Angeles Urban League team of Christopher Dorsey, Anthony Lamberson, Farrell McCullough and Khoi Pham, placing second; the third-place team of Leonardo Forte, Chad Goodlow, Lauren Plummer and James Summers, representing the Urban League of Greater Dallas and North Central Texas; and Tina Collymore, Elana Frazier, Francine Lewis and Randy Mullard, placing fourth on behalf of the New York City Urban League.
“The good thing about programs like this is that, in a real sense, everyone wins,” said Barbara Holt, program coordinator for the Chicago Urban League. “Although the Chicago team goes home with the cash award and accolades, everyone who participated comes away with more in-depth and practical knowledge about technology, and how to develop and implement a business plan.”
“Because of its emphasis on economic self-sufficiency and entrepreneurial empowerment, the National Urban League and its local affiliates were natural partners for this program,” Cruise said. “The Youth IT Challenge is a recent addition to the long-standing collaboration between the National Urban League and Microsoft.”Since 1997, Microsoft has donated millions in software and cash to support the Urban League’s national infrastructure. This year’s pilot competition was limited to four cities, but next year’s will expand to Urban League affiliates in six additional markets.
About the National Urban League
Founded in 1910 and headquartered in New York City, The Urban League is the nation’s oldest and largest community-based movement devoted to empowering African Americans to enter the economic and social mainstream.
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