Memphis, Tennessee has a storied history of segregation, institutional racism, and policies that have disenfranchised people of color for centuries.
At one time, Memphis, Tennessee was the lifeblood of the slave trade that dominated the economy of the South. Economic growth for people of color in the city is largely limited. Less than 1% of all business revenue in the city of Memphis comes from businesses owned by African Americans and Latinx individuals, yet 70% of the population belongs to these demographics. The poverty rate for African American children within the city is a staggering 52.2%. The 25 largest African-American owned businesses in Memphis collectively employ 1,200 people in a city with a labor force of over 400,000. The wealth gap between white families and black families decreases from a factor of 13 to a factor of 3 when a black family has a business owner. Furthermore, black business owners’ net worth is on average 12 times higher than black non-business owners.
LITE empowers minority students with key 21st-century skills not being taught in schools so they have the ability to compete in the workforce, build technologies and businesses that change the economic landscape in their city, and build wealth in their communities long-term.
LITE has produced a model that effectively develops key 21st-century skills in minority youth, giving them the skills to lift themselves out of poverty and stimulate their local economy through business solutions. We differ from other self-empowerment entrepreneurship programs in two key ways: First, we teach practical application, not abstract concepts. Many programs teach students theoretical solutions to problems and miss the key experiential learning, and self-empowerment that comes with creation and execution. Through LITE, students launch a business that can generate revenue and demonstrate an ROI. 17% of our Innovation Fellows from our first cohort (2013) are still generating revenue from businesses they launched through our High School Finalist program six years ago. Secondly, we provide long-term support that maximizes the potential for success. Most youth programs offer interventions up until the age of 18 or through interventions lasting less than six months. According to a study by Richard Fairlie with the GATES experiment, entrepreneurial education programs have no long-term effect on business success when those interventions are less than six months. Our pipeline provides eight years of support for each student with targeted programming aimed at building the next generation of self-empowered workers, entrepreneurs and leaders.