HARLEM – As an immigrant from Nigeria, Chike Ukaegbu experienced the difficulties of life as an outsider in a new country. Now an Ivy-League educated, successful entrepreneur, his life’s work is fighting for youth on the margins of society, to empower them toward fully participating in the American Dream.
A former fellow with the Colin Powell Center for Leadership and Public Policy at the City College of New York, Ukaegbu shared his story with Opportunity Lives, including how he created the leadership model of HEROES, his acronym for Heritage, Education, Relationship, Opportunity, Entrepreneurship and Service.
“These are six crucial areas important to the effective development of youth,” Ukaegbu says. “The HEROES Model Initiative aims to positively impact children and youth development by training and equipping those who directly or indirectly affect their lives.”
In 2010, Ukaegbu co-founded Re:LIFE Incorporated, a non-profit that partners with churches and other groups to implement HEROES training and encourage entrepreneurship.
“We realize that empowering these kids with entrepreneurship, many of them stand out on the streets, tons of money illegally selling drugs or making money their own way, so empowering these youth legally became very important for communities like Harlem and Washington Heights, South Bronx,” Ukaegbu said in a TEDx video. Ukaegbu described the Re:LIFE mission as a way to help kids “to think outside the box, to think, to appreciate the opportunities that they never thought were there for them in the first place.”
As the mainstream media continues to promulgate images of disaffected urban youth, Ukaegbu instead helps young people to see themselves as assets rather than liabilities. He helps students envision opportunities rather than dwell on setbacks.
“Through the love and compassion and guidance and mentoring of the people, the community, the group that Re:LIFE is, I was able to get back on the right track and enroll myself in college and at the same time gain a business education and a mentality that I never had before,” said Jonathan Cruz, founder of Parfum d’Elegance and a Re:LIFE alumnus.
Startup52 seeks to find “untapped and under-tapped communities” and provide them with business training through tech and entrepreneurship.
Ukaegbu’s current project is Startup52, which this summer will host its inaugural Startup52X Accelerator in partnership with several corporate sponsors along with community partner Silicon Harlem. Startup52 is on a treasure hunt to locate and train entrepreneurs and startups from what Ukaegbu calls “untapped and under-tapped communities like minorities, women, entrepreneurs who are veterans, seniors, identify as LGBTQ, with disability, are new immigrants, and more.”
Housed at the The Grove School of Engineering of The City College of New York, where Ukaegbu is an instructor, Startup52X Accelerator will allow the first class of entrepreneurs to access KIVA Zip, where each participant will be eligible for up to a $10,000 interest-free crowdfunded loan, payable over three years. Thus a startup team of four could raise up to $40,000.
“Because Startup52 will serve as a Trustee for each loan, we will work with each team to determine how much they need and the best way to use the money,” Ukaegbu said. “Our hope is that this financing structure will help us attract those entrepreneurs who are confident in their abilities to succeed. Also, the need to pay back will help minimize distractions from acceleration goals, encourage entrepreneurs to work lean and spend smarter, and reduce capital waste. It will also help our entrepreneurs focus intently on gaining and growing traction.”
Source: The Wall Street Journal
Last year, major Silicon Valley companies released data showing how few women, African-Americans and Hispanics were employed by tech firms. Startup52X Accelerator is working to change that, partnering with firms ranging from Microsoft and IBM to Amazon, Hubspot, Indiegogo, and KIVA Zip.
“I am excited about Startup52 and its mission to economically empower underrepresented communities through tech and entrepreneurship, in order to create a more diverse landscape in tech,” Ukaegbu said in a news release. “There is also no doubt that Harlem has become a force to reckon with, especially with great partners like Silicon Harlem, an organization that is effectively connecting all the dots needed to build a stronger and more sustainable tech hub in Harlem and NYC. My goal is to build networks that will collectively create global opportunities that positively impact lives. I want to leave a lasting legacy worthy of emulation. Startup52 is one way that I am doing that.”
Carrie Sheffield is the Senior Writer at Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter @carriesheffield and on Facebook.