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ASU Partners with Cisco to Empower Minority Youth to Become Entrepreneurs

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Arizona State University has partnered with Cisco Systems to launch a project aimed at teaching minority youth how to become entrepreneurs.

The grant-funded project plans to help an estimated 1,000 high school students and about 300 community college students create solutions to problems they see happening in their communities using digitization skills they will be taught.

An example of this could be finding a way to use surveillance technology to make schools safer.

A Cisco-sponsored Silicon Valley Community Foundation grant of nearly $1 million will support the project over the next three years.

“What we’re hoping to do is really create a culture of entrepreneurship for minority youth, which doesn’t really exist right now,” said German Cadenas, who leads the project and is the strategic initiative fellow at the ASU Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Cadenas, also a doctoral student, said he believes the project could help increase the number of minority students who attain a college education. Despite improvements over the past few decades, Hispanic, African-American, and Native American youth continue to be far less likely than white and Asian students to go to college.

The project has three main components, including a training segment called ASU Poder, which in Spanish means “to be able to” and “power.” It is a one-month training designed to help minority community college students from low-income families come up with innovative projects that they believe can help solve problems they’ve identified in their communities.

Tae Yoo, senior vice president of corporate affairs at Cisco, said some examples of student projects can include coming up with a way to predict an asthma attack or constructing a building that can detect and contain a gas leak.

“There has never been a better time to be a global problem solver,” she said in a statement.

The Poder training will include a similar curriculum taught at the ASU Startup School, a series of workshops that teach entrepreneurs how to develop successful ventures. ASU staff and students will be on hand to help  young people with their projects, as well as to help them figure out what careers are available to them.

The first training, which students can apply for online, will start in April at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix. It’s intended to grow to other community colleges in the Phoenix metro area and train nearly 300 students over the next three years.

Another component of the project involves training teachers in 20 high schools in the Phoenix area so they can help their students become entrepreneurs. The teachers also will be taught  how to help students get to college and how to be "culturally competent" — that is, they will learn about the diverse community norms of their students.

The project aims to build on and expand two existing programs that train high school students to be entrepreneurs: the Seed Spot Next program and the Engineering Projects in Community Service’s high school program. Cadenas said the goal is to accelerate the growth of these two endeavors so that more minority students can benefit.

The third component of the project is a contest that will award nearly $100,000 over a period of three years to help students jump-start their entrepreneurial ventures. Both high school and community college students will get to pitch their projects at events held multiple times every year. They’ll each have a chance to win up to $5,000 in seed funding to launch start-up ventures.

Cadenas said seeing the project he helped create come to fruition is fulfilling. 

“I think there’s a perception that entrepreneurship is only for certain kind of people,” he said. “I [think] that anybody can be an entrepreneur, anybody can be an innovator, and anybody can have a really creative idea. They just need the support to be able to succeed.”

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