While attending a summer program for minority students from around the country at Harvard University, Nena Ugwuomo met another student who had launched a successful technology company. This moment inspired Ugwuomo to create her own start-up.
When she returned to Howard University and began searching for resources, it dawned upon her that there weren’t many places college students could be educated about startup technology. Ugwuomo decided to take this matter into her own hands. In 2013, she launched the non-profit organization Student Dream to fill that void.
“I wanted to fill this gap with Student Dream and it really being an ongoing accelerator [and] incubator that really trains underserved college students — specifically Black and Latino college students on how to launch just the most innovative, high impact startups in the world,” Ugwuomo told BET.com.
Recent diversity reports of the top technology companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter show the industry lacks a strong presence of Blacks and Latinos. Only one in 14 technology workers are Black or Latino, recent Census data shows.
After her college graduation in 2012, Ugwuomo went on to work for Nielsen to learn how a big company operates. At the same time, she took advantage of the technology community in New York City, also known as Silicon Alley, and began pitching Student Dream to investors.
“I started pitching my idea in every single competition. I would just go in competition and competition and competition,” explained Ugwuomo, who also works full-time at General Assembly, as an admissions producer and instructor.
Ugwuomo mentions fellow individuals on her team that put in time to make the Student Dream happen. This includes Courtney Hart, head of marketing; Shakei Jaynes, head of development; and Tray Smith, campus manager, according to the Student Dream website.
In September 2013, she began building a community around her organization through an event called “Boss Talks.”
“It’s a simple two-hour event where I’m interviewing an upcoming entrepreneur on what they’re doing. So starting with that with about 13 people, we have blown up to at least 50, 60 people per event here in New York City alone,” she explained.
Student Dream then began hosting hackathons, where a community of developers and others with technical backgrounds came together to create working solutions using technology.
“The first hackathon had a great turnout to the point where not only were these students sending me e-mails like, ‘Man I learned more in three days than I have my college career,’” she said. “At one of our hackathons, one of our teams added a developer onto their founding team, so connections were made,” she continued.
One of the winning teams was a group of Temple University graduates, who were the first to go through Student Dream’s mentorship program. “We connected them with an entrepreneur who, while he was in college, raised $35 million in venture capital and was able to sell his company,” Ugwuomo said.
The team went on to pitch their idea, WhoseYourLandlord.com, to New York Angels, an angel investment firm that gave them $20,000 and accepted them into their accelerator program.
In the meantime, Student Dream continues to reach students face-to-face at college club fairs, club hours and at conferences by partnering with universities. On Sept. 24, Student Dream organized a 30 Days to Launch Challenge that concluded with participants pitching their ideas for a chance to win $5000 in prizes.
For those interested in tapping into the technology world, Ugwuomo says putting yourself out there is the first step. “Going to meet ups, going to hackathons — start reading introductions to the startup community; following leading news sources like TechCrunch to just get your mind aware of what’s out there.”
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(Photo Credit: Student Dream)
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