“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
It all started with an age-old question. One that even as a Duke University graduate, I struggled to answer for myself. Did I want to stay in finance at UBS where I was? Did I want to start a company? Go to business school? Become a lawyer? Even with all the opportunity in the world, I wasn’t sure where I wanted my career to take me.
Then I met Jamaal. Jamaal was 7th grade student at Democracy Prep in Harlem.
“I want to be a basketball player, like Lebron James.” Jamaal told me. We asked his entire middle school in Harlem what they want to be when they grow up. Top three answers were professional athlete, pop singer, or what mom or dad do.
It became immediately clear to me that we’ve been asking the wrong question.
Not only did these students not know what they wanted to be when they grew up, but they also had no idea what they could be when they grew up.
At the same time, as an analyst on Wall Street, I had another problem – our company struggled to organize employee volunteer events. The typical community service options – Habitat for Humanity, soup kitchens, park clean up – while noble, were difficult to organize, not very exciting, and had a very minimal impact. If we are going to get 40 volunteers from UBS for one day, shouldn’t we do more than clean up a park?
So we decided to help Jamaal, and bring our company into the classroom. We brought 40 UBS employees to run a business competition where Jamaal and his classmates solved a problem for a real company – and designed a new shoe for Nike. Jamaal learned all about business problem-solving, marketing, branding, teamwork and presentations, with the help of UBS employees.
Clearly we were onto something, and SuitUp was born. Today, SuitUp runs competitions for all types of companies, from Fortune 500 to startups, and increases career awareness in low-income schools across New York City. We provide a much needed service for companies, handling all the hassle that comes with finding and running an effective volunteer day, and teach students like Jamaal about the types of careers they could have some day.
After his class’ SuitUp competition, I asked Jamaal a different question.
“What can you be when you grow up?”
“I can be anything if I study the right things,” he replied, “but I think I want to be a graphic designer for a music company…maybe Beats by Dre.”
We created SuitUp to align the incentives of schools and companies – bringing companies into the classroom to increase career awareness for students in low-income communities. Our companies receive a well-run, low-cost volunteer day that engages their employees. In addition, through our students, the company can gain insights about their brand from the urban young-adult demographic that can be difficult to reach. Most importantly, our schools receive real-world curriculum and education resources to equip their students for life beyond the classroom.
Together we can make education more exciting and more relevant. Join us today and help us ask our students the right questions.
Co-Founder and Chairman