Diana Nelson Jones' Walkabout: 412 Build’s business is training teen entrepreneurs
August 4, 2015 12:00 AM
Students in the summer's first 412 Build session learn woodworking skills at TechShop.
By Diana Nelson Jones / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Imagine having the chance to pitch your entrepreneurial idea to the executives at Google. Imagine being 17 and having that chance.
That’s just part of 412 Build, a five-week program that accepted its second cohort of 12 teenagers last week.
With funding from the Hillman Foundation and using Chromebook computers donated by Google, the entrepreneurial training program brings the nonprofits GTECH Strategies and City of Play together with the TechShop, Innovation Works and AlphaLab Gear on behalf of young people who might otherwise never get such a boost.
Besides giving the youths instruction in prototyping, market research, financial planning, urban design, welding, woodworking and 3D printing, 412 Build brings successful entrepreneurs to the group for discussions. At the end of the course, the teenagers build something that becomes a community asset.
The first group this summer built a pergola, deck and bench, flower bed and corn hole and ladder golf games at Kite Hill Park in Garfield.
The current group will work at the Bible Center Church in Homewood on a project as yet to be determined.
Cynthia Wallace, executive director of the Oasis Project, the Bible Center’s out-of-school program, said the effort will likely be “game focused, something for the community playground. We want to promote early literacy and early math skills, combining play with learning.”
Late in the spring, the partner organizations began recruiting teenagers to apply. The program is open to anyone from ages 16 to 19, but Jackie Shimshoni, the program coordinator, said the objective is “to make sure these resources are available to kids who live in this area” — notably Larimer, East Liberty, Homewood.
The organizations received 100 applications and culled them to 24 after meetings and interviews.
GTECH Strategies brings the community beneficiaries to the group, and the students hold an input session with them.
“We have students who don’t get these kinds of opportunities,” said Steve Fortunato, a graphics and engineering teacher who will be starting a new job this fall at Seneca Valley High School. He was hired as a summer instructor for 412 Build.
“They get so many resources and so much networking. It’s awesome how excited they are to be here every day,” he said. “If we could just figure out how to do this [in school] with English and math.”
The training is held at the TechShop in Bakery Square, where the students also assemble their products. They are introduced to the possibilities of getting used materials at Construction Junction, “to encourage reuse of materials but also to show them that for small businesses, in the real world, budgets are limited,” said Ms. Shimshoni.
“We stress to them that this is a job,” she said. “Their stipend is $250 a week. We want this to be competitive with other internships.”
Considering that so many internships are unpaid, 412 Build is likely to be overwhelmed with applications as it grows. It is planning a fall and a spring component that will include younger teenagers.
One reason Pittsburgh made the transition from post-industrial doldrums so successfully was the depth, breadth and generosity of its foundations. In the past 10-15 years, the city has inspired a large crop of smart, innovative nonprofits dedicated to strengthening community and a small but vigorous community of start-up investors and mentors. The wise among them see the value in sharing their expertise instead of hoarding it.
When you put all this generosity together, you get 24 kids who, at the end of summer, are jazzed to think about the possibilities the world holds for them.
On Monday, Jenna and Jeremy Shock shared the story of how they left good jobs with benefits to start their own company, Reclaimed Things, repurposing scrapped wood into products.
One teenager asked, “Overall, is this process difficult?” and Mr. Shock said, “Yes. But I’m not trying to scare you. Life as an entrepreneur can be great. Don’t be afraid of the challenges.”
Diana Nelson Jones: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1626.
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