We already know that Philly is a hot spot for new startups, but we may see a whole lot more entrepreneurial action in the coming years, thanks to StartupCorps, an emerging youth entrepreneurship program.
Finishing its first academic year in June, StartupCorps has given away $3,500 in startup capital to Science Leadership Academy students, says founder Christian Kunkel.
Kunkel, originally from Harrisburg, has always had Philly in his blood, and when he dreamed up the idea for StartupCorps, he knew just where to take it.
“I’ve always been a Philly fan, and I moved to the area with the explicit intent of executing StartupCorps,” Kunkel says. “Historically there have been so many problems in the Philadelphia education system. Now they actually have a lot of innovative things going on, and there is a lot of flexibility to grow the program.”
An entrepreneur himself, Kunkel identified with business-minded youth and found his passion in youth education.
“This support structure of being mentored by experienced entrepreneurs and actually creating real businesses is something that I never had when I was young,” says Kunkel. “I thought that if I could provide this for students, they would benefit so much from it.”
Each StartupCorps student reports once or twice a week for up to two hours to receive lessons from a primary instructor and advice from mentors, all successful entrepreneurs themselves.
The program begins by identifying each student’s strengths and passions, and prompting the students to select an issue in the community that is important to them.
“The key to us is taking the action and starting a real business,” says Kunkel. “Students learn so much more in that process than from simply writing the business plan.”
One student, who felt hip-hop music was becoming bogged down with negative messages, started OX Music, a hip-hop label that promotes peace. The label has already signed 16 artists.
Another had been kicking around ideas for a restaurant with her uncle. She chose to pursue it as her StartupCorps business plan, and you may now know it as Fat Joe’s Lunchbox in South Philly. Seriously, try the cheesesteaks.
With success stories like these, Kunkel has no plans to stop anytime soon, and he hopes to expand StartupCorps to other cities across the nation once he develops a large and self-sustaining network here in Philadelphia.
The program has already staffed 45 mentors and hopes to keep the roster growing. Though, the cause is also receiving financial assistance in some pretty unconventional ways from MyDunkTank founder Blake Jennelle, who is donning a cowboy costume for an entire month to raise over $2,000 for Startup Corps.
If that’s not enough humorous philanthropy for you, you’ll definitely want to check out StartupCorps’ annual fundraiser on August 19 at University of the Arts, where the program will be hosting a MyDunkTank dare on the spot to raise funds.
“If you can donate to a good cause and have something hilarious happen to somebody you know along the way, I think that’s a win-win for everybody,” Kunkel says with a laugh.
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