As Internships Fizzled, LA Bootstrapped a Startup Program for Disadvantaged Youth
Francesca Billington is a dot.LA editorial intern. She's previously reported for KCRW, the Santa Monica Daily Press and local publications in New Jersey. Before joining dot.LA, she was a communications fellow at an environmental science research center in Sri Lanka. She graduated from Princeton in 2019 with a degree in anthropology.
For a lot of youth, 2020 was a lost summer. No internships, summer jobs looked bleak and graduation was dampened.
Joseph Hernandez Terrejon was one of them. Now, he runs a platform that connects barbers, hair stylists and makeup technicians with their clients in a safe environment.
Hernandez Terrejon, a 21-year-old Pasadena City College student, came up with the idea after his sister's hair salon closed and she began booking at-home appointments.
The app became a reality thanks to EmbarcLA, an entrepreneurship program for youth, developed with pre-accelerator program Startup Boost, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the Los Angeles mayor's office.
The program is run by Tania Mulry, co-director of Startup Boost LA, and Moaz Hamid, founder and CEO of health tech startup MVMT.AI. It aims to demystify the world of tech to youth who often don't get access to such training. Judene Small, the managing partner of CHIENET and co-founder of RootsxWings Digital, is also a co-director.
"Many said they are the first in their family to go to college and some had a family member running a small business," Hamid told dot.LA.
Hamid has run incubator programs and accelerators before, but those usually accept around 10 internships or 30 people per class. Within 24 hours of announcing EmbarcLA, over 110 students had applied. The program accepted all of them and began class the next morning.
To build a program schedule, Hamid took cues from the students. Over 90% of them came from low-income households and a few from foster care, he said.
The five-week workshop connected students, aged 16 to 24, with entrepreneurs and company founders through virtual classes, panels and mentorship. It was such a hit that Hamid said he expects the sessions to keep monthly sessions going until the next summer program 2021.
By the time Hernandez Terrejon joined, he had already sketched the prototype of an app that would essentially run like a ride-sharing platform for barbers, hair stylists and makeup technicians.
"[My sister] started doing hair appointments at home, getting more clients than she would in the salon," Hernandez Terrejon said. "And right away something in my head clicked."
At the end of August, he pitched the idea over Zoom to L.A.'s mayor during a demo day hosted by EmbarcLA.
Hernandez Terrejon learned about the program after the Chamber of Commerce canceled their 'LA Tech Pipeline' summer program. He had applied for a position at Snapchat through the program. He said workshops at EmbarcLA taught him how to research the market and demographics of his app idea, "so I could be able to present it to anyone, whether it be the mayor, investors or a business."
EmbarcLA participants pitch L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti their ideas over Zoom..
One panel explored how to become an innovator while working a job at a big company. Another talk led by actor, musician and playwright Marcus Harmon took up writing as a form of entrepreneurship.
Some students tuned in from bathrooms or closets, wherever they could find quiet space. And when Hamid heard several relied on their phone's data plans to join sessions, the directors switched from a data-heavy program to Zoom, which requires less bandwidth.
Hernandez Terrejon, who studies design, recently passed his app design along to programmers. One company, called Squire, offers a similar product to his but so far it only books appointments for barbers.
"I'm never going to forget when one of the guest speakers that said 10 years ago nobody thought strangers would be picking up strangers to drop them off places," Hernandez Terrejon said. "Nothing is impossible in the tech industry, especially when you're an entrepreneur."
Two other participants in EmbarcLA, Alan David and his brother Orlando Leon, plan to apply what they learned this summer to their family's food truck business. UCLA grad Rayvonn Anthony Sanchez Rodriguez Lee, now a student at Santa Monica College, developed an idea for a nonprofit college and career mentorship program for high schoolers.
***This story was updated to include future program dates, the L.A. mayor's office and co-director Judene Small.
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