Pittsburgh students experience the ‘Shark Tank’

WORTH THE INVESTMENT—Jonah Miller, a member of the second-place team, NOVA, holds the tools to his success.

Event part of 100 Black Men’s ‘Pathways to Success’ program

On any given Friday evening in this region, numerous people tune into the television series, Shark Tank, observing budding entrepreneurs present their ideas to five financial sharks in the tank in hopes of making a financial connection and to fulfil their dreams.
On a recent Saturday morning on the campus of Duquesne University, 23 middle and high school students had the Shark Tank experience as they presented their entrepreneurial ideas to a panel of Pittsburgh judges in the final step of the 100 Black Men of Western Pennsylvania’s The Pathways to Success program. Funding for the program is provided through a grant from Wells Fargo.
“The Pathways program takes students through the paces of increasing their entrepreneurship mindset, skills, business acumen, financial planning, leadership and teamwork,” explained Al Valentine, the chapter president.
“Team members apply these skills through building on a business idea, making it concrete, with the final step to pitch their idea to a Shark Tank-like panel of professionals.”
The goals and objectives of the program are to increase the talent development and career readiness of 100 Black Men chapter mentees and/or marginalized youth of color; to increase the business acumen and competencies for participants in preparation for the workplace and marketplace; to expand the participants’ awareness of corporate and entrepreneurial career pathways and provide skills development training and coaching; to provide a relevant program for 100 Black Men chapters that also supports Wells Fargo’s commitment to outreach, education, and inclusion; and to create a strategic alliance between the local 100 Black Men chapter and local Wells Fargo leadership.

DECISION-MAKERS—100 Black Men Shark Tank judges—Deon Henderson, PNC Bank; Justin Binion, Wells Fargo; Alexander Nichols, formerly of the Eastern Minority Supplier Development Council and Derrick Wilson of The Wilson Group.

In its second year, the Shark Tank event had five teams participating which produced three winners. Team businesses included Track My Bus Inc., Now on Various Arts Home Remodeling, Mini Money Makers, BAUSU, a travel app and Shoezign, a shoe design business. Winners received $200 gift cards.
First-place winners were a team of five students who created Track My Bus Inc, an application that tracks and provides real-time information on the location of a school bus. The app is designed for parents and school officials. The group was requesting $20,000 in exchange of 10 percent of the business.
NOVA, Now on Various Arts Home Remodeling, also a team of five, were second-place winners. Requesting $200,000 for 10 percent of the business, the group describes their venture as a global home remodeling business that turns “old and crappy” houses into cultural masterpieces.
Third-place winners, M3, Mini Money Makers, are a team of three that proposes to operate a non-profit business designed to provide three meals a day to children in the public school system during the weekends. The trio’s goal is to receive food, monetary donations and labor from their peers. They also will solicit assistance from the Food Bank and other organizations. Commending M3 for their non-profit standing, the four judges said the group was thinking outside the box by discerning ways to solve a problem while helping others.
Each team’s 10-minute presentation was judged on an 18-point system based on how well they knew and introduced their product or service, their market and marketing strategy, their competition and what makes them different, their business investment, pricing and profit and lost statements as well as the overall presentation.
Committed, caring and leading by example, the 100 Black Men of Western PA, an all-volunteer organization, has been creating opportunities for youth allowing them to develop skills, experiences, and resources that build a strong foundation for future success for more than 30 years. Their mission is to improve the quality of life within the community and enhance educational and economic opportunities for African Americans in grades 8 to 12 in the Greater Pittsburgh Area.
A WINNING TEAM—Members of the first-place business, Track My Bus Inc., explain their concept to a Shark Tank panel. (Photos by Diane I. Daniels)

Using academic success and post-secondary education preparation as priorities, 100 Black Men strives to increase the academic skills of students through tutoring and project-based learning. Core program areas of the group’s national model are mentoring, academics, leadership, health and wellness, and financial literacy.
In the past year, 56 students completed programs (31 in year-round, 25 in the summer). Also, an African American History Bowl Challenge in collaboration with Pittsburgh Public Schools was held, which involved 175 youth. One hundred percent of the participants advanced to the next grade, all seniors graduated and 90 percent of the seniors transitioned to post-secondary education.
The 100 Black Men of Western PA is one of the seven original founding chapters of the 100 Black Men of America, a broad-based, international organization with over 120 chapters in 30 states, including the District of Columbia, Kingston, Jamaica, Birmingham, United Kingdom and Gore Island, Senegal.
Highly recommending young people to participate in the 100 Black Men programs, Jonah Miller, a five-year participant, says the program is worth the time. “This was quite an experience,” he said. Miller is a senior attending Valley High School. His plan after graduation is to go into the Carpenter’s Union.
“I learned a lot about the components of a business.”
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