Getting a Head Start
Introducing students in high school, or even earlier, to youth entrepreneurship programming can give them an advantage in college and early in their careers. The combination of classroom learning, real-world experiences and mentoring gives students valuable skills and perspectives that they can take with them long after school. INCubatoredu alum Mona Fang discovered this when she left Naperville North High School in Naperville, IL and enrolled at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, IL.
Solving the Fast-Fashion Crisis
Mona’s passion is solving the fast-fashion crisis, which she feels is a huge contributor to climate change. She is the founder of Karma Trade — a digital circular economy for fashion powered by a native currency called Karma. Traders can earn karma by trading in their second-hand clothing fashion to local or online outposts, and these outposts can earn money by redistributing through their retail or e-commerce platforms. In 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, Karma Trade was still able to get 28,000 second-hand fashion items circulated among 1,200 people, minting $200,000 worth of karma in circulation. They are now building a two-sided marketplace digital platform to connect local traders with outposts, giving rise for people to build communities and circular economies using their platform, so, for example, a person can drop in Portland and swap in Dallas.
Mona appreciates the head start that her high school INCubatoredu class gave her: "When I came to campus, a lot of the university students were also interested in starting their own company, but they didn't have the high school experience. It was their first time getting their feet wet, and pitching and talking about it and creating an MVP, which are the most valuable things in starting your own company. But INCubatoredu was great because it enabled me to see what that would be like before going to university."
Tapping into the Power of Networking
Networking is a key skill taught in the INCubatoredu class. It's how Mona found her current chief marketing officer, Josh James. Josh was in the INCubatoredu program at Wheaton North High School in Wheaton IL. He and a group of fellow students founded a company called Allergenius Baking Company providing delicious, vegan, non-GMO baked goods free of the 14 most common food allergens (two of his co-founders have severe food allergies). Josh connected with Mona through iVenture Accelerator at University of Illinois, which is a program similar to INCubatoredu. Josh was so inspired by Mona's vision for Karma Trade that he decided to join her team this past fall. There was a purpose, a mission that Josh was drawn to — to make a difference and help the planet.
Finding Purpose Elevates the Passion
In talking about the Karma Trade business and her overall INCubatoredu experience, Mona explained, "Working in this space has brought a lot of value to my life. To be able to know that there are a lot of problems out there and that 50% of our climate change issues are within our linear economy in manufacturing and other ways. We're living in a world drowning in too much stuff. So, obviously, it's a pressing problem that makes you feel like your work is very valuable and creating change."
Learning and living with this kind of purpose is at the heart of INCubatoredu. Dr. David Schuler, 2018 National Superintendent of the Year, explained this concept in his introduction to "LEARNING WITH A PURPOSE: Preparing Today’s Students to Navigate an Increasingly Ambiguous Future" by Evo Popoff: "The key to ensuring young people are successful is not just helping them achieve academic success, but instilling in them a sense of purpose and a way to help them navigate uncertainty."
"The key to ensuring young people are successful is not just helping them achieve academic success, but instilling in them a sense of purpose and a way to help them navigate uncertainty."
~ Evo Popoff, Whiteboard Advisors
Author Popoff adds, "Ensuring that our students leave school with a sense of purpose — with fulfilling experiences and an understanding that they have the power to explore their passions and interests — may be equally important. Research shows that having a sense of purpose is good for the mental and emotional well-being of young people, and it may even help them live longer."
Gaining recognition for the impact
The trend of bringing purpose to learning is growing and the impact is gaining recognition. Inc. magazine took notice of our programs and late last year named Uncharted Learning, NFP, to the Inc. 2021 Best in Business list in the category of Youth Entrepreneurship. Our Executive Director Christy Scott said, “It’s an honor for our work to be recognized and be among companies who are working to make an impact around the world. All over the country, we see students creating solutions to problems that are important to them."
We were honored to receive this award and hope our students realize the huge role they played in it. My message to them is this: You are the ones with the ideas and passion that are making a difference and inspiring the rest of us every day.