LITE (Let's Innovate Through Education) Memphis
By: Emily Faber, summer creator
In the near future, the annoyances of congested traffic, unavailable parking, and expensive transportation alternatives may be solved. Imagine a rechargeable electric battery that you could attach to the front wheel of your bike or the bottom of your skateboard that allows you to reach an accelerated speed, reducing gasoline expenses and your environmental footprint.
It is the urban transportation wave of the future, and two college sophomores are working to make it a reality.
Mildred Vazquez and Kendus Tisdale-Jeffries are business partners of ‘GoMentum,’ the rechargeable battery for bikes and skateboards. Kendus is an aspiring engineer who developed the business idea, and Mildred is leading outreach efforts in the Memphis community and securing partners with local bike stores. They are both students of LITE, “Let’s Innovate Through Education,” and have received training, mentorship, and stipend money from the program to develop their business.
LITE is an educational nonprofit in Memphis which aims to increase entrepreneurial opportunities among African-American and Latinx youth in the city in order to close the racial wealth gap.
“The youth is going to be the future leadership of Memphis, so we want to make sure that opportunity gap is closed way before they’re even entering the workforce,” said Alexandra Thompson, Outreach Assistant for LITE. “We want to make sure that they are using their time in college to build networks so that when they graduate, they will have the same opportunities as someone who looks different from them or comes from a different background.”
The timeline of the program begins in high school and continues to work with students until they are age 25. Within that time, students are matched with mentors to develop scalable businesses, present to investors, and gain funding by participating in pitch competitions. LITE students also advance in skills such as time management, problem-solving, oral and professional communication, and creativity. The organization was named “one of 20 idea that can change the world” by Forbes in 2016 and has empowered 2,000 youth with entrepreneurial education since it began in 2013.
“LITE has really helped me grow these past two years when it comes to meeting people, networking, and business etiquette,” said Kendus. “I wasn’t very good at getting in front of people and talking, but I’ve had to get up and communicate my ideas and meet people.”
Mildred and Kendus were both participants in LITE while they were in high school, when the program focuses on helping students develop a nonprofit rather than a scalable business. Mildred’s dedication to fighting for immigrants’ rights led her to create ‘UnDocugrads,’ an online Latino Success Campaign aimed at connecting undocumented students with successful Latino business leaders. Kendus used his love of engineering to develop ‘The Dream Team,’ a nonprofit designed to attract more minorities and underrepresented youth in STEM.
Once Mildred and Kendus reached college, they were eligible for the next stage of their program at LITE: developing a for-profit business idea that taps into their passions. During this stage of the program, GoMentum was founded.
Kendus recognized his love of engineering from a young age, when we would try to assemble computers from his toys. While in elementary school, Kendus’ teacher told him that he could have a career making computers when he was older. Kendus was excited to learn he could convert his love of developing technology into a job he could pursue.
“I’ve wanted to start my own business since I was little. I never expected I would start it as soon as I am now, though. I thought that it would be later in my 30s and 40s or after I had some experience in the field,” said Kendus.
“I couldn’t imagine being older and wishing I had taken the opportunity to pitch in front of an audience and get money from investors,” said Mildred. “It’s better to do with support than alone, for sure.”
Mildred shared that the LITE not only encouraged her to enter into the entrepreneurial world, but helped her secure her educational future at Rhodes College.
“LITE really opened doors for me, especially starting in high school because I didn’t know how I was going to pay for college. It wasn’t until LITE helped me with resources and helped me get connected that I found out I was eligible for a major scholarship at Rhodes,” said Mildred. She is currently a Clarence Day Scholar at Rhodes College, the highest merit-based scholarship that the college offers.
Both Kendus and Mildred are participating in internships secured through LITE; Mildred is working with Crosstown High School and Kendus is learning how to code and make apps with Code Crew. Each student in the internship program receives $3,000, and internships range in professions. Two interns have already been offered a part-time job during the school year until they can work for their company full-time once they graduate.
Mildred and Kendus see developing GoMentum as a part of their future. Mildred will continue securing partnerships with other bike shops and workshops in Memphis, and the team will be attending different public events to gain publicity and pitch competitions to acquire more investment money. They hope to develop a prototype by December.
“LITE really fueled this drive to be an entrepreneur that I didn’t know I had,” said Mildred. We are excited to see where that passion leads GoMentum into the future.