Innovative program provides money and training for students to start their own business

MEMPHIS, TN - Journi Prewitt found success in a box.

"The box represents something that I needed when I was growing up. It represents a gift that helps with self-esteem, self-worth," says Prewitt.

The 17-year-old is the owner of Black Butterfly Beautiful, a subscription box business that empowers African-American children.

Each month her 275 subscribers are shipped themed items highlighting people of color in books, businesses and personal care products.

"Each month we include a pamphlet. In our pamphlet we include a theme of the month and each pamphlet includes monarchs, women who fit the theme, but they also have done really tremendous things," says Prewitt.

Journi already had the business, but learned how to take her idea to the next level through a program called LITE - Let's Innovate Through Education.

"I have really learned how to network ...and how to do the logistical part like writing a business plan," says Prewitt.

At LITE, students meet with volunteer coaches in the evenings and weekends, learning to turn passion into profit.

"I wanted them to have a real world chance of launching things with actual money," says  LITE Founder and Executive Director Hardy Farrow.  He says, as a teacher,  he kept hearing his students at Power Center Academy ask for something like this.

"I basically challenged them and said if they went through my curriculum, I would give them money to go out and launch their businesses. So I raised 50-thousand dollars while I was teaching and I gave it back to my students to start launching businesses," says Farrow.

LITE is geared toward African-American and Latino student, closing the racial wealth gap by helping them become entrepreneurs and secure high-wage jobs.

"What we are trying to do is we are trying to replicate what is already going on in communities of privilege. When you go outside of the city into the county in some well off communities, these things are already happening with kids and their parents. It's just how do we replicate that inside of Memphis," says Farrow.   "They go through things like identifying their unique value composition, identifying who their competitors are, doing customer discovery, learning how to market, how to budget, learning how to communicate."

Seventeen-year-old Zaria Lane wants to develop a Natural Hair Product.

"Before this program, I really kinda doubted myself and I was gonna let the idea go, because I didn't have any clue where it could take me. So through this program I feel lifted," says Lane.

At LITE she learns how to adapt her idea and then actually pitch it to partners or investors.

Sixteen-year-old Zoe Spikner saw her idea come to LITE.

"I did my research on wedding planning apps and now we are in the process of developing that," says Spikner.  "They are giving me all these resources like an app developer, a logo maker."

LITE works with the students through college.

"When they are in college, they get matched paid internships so they can get exposed to that work and learn real world experiences," says Farrow.

Sixteen-year-old Jamal Muhammad is putting the finishing touches on his Tourist Detective App, promoting tourism in Memphis....highlighting small businesses.
LITE showed him the business side of developing his app.

"They showed me different entrepreneurs and people in the tech filed and showed me how to talk to people in that field,"  says Muhammad.  "Very great program. You get funding and you get mentors to come in and talk to you every week, who are dedicated to you and your business success. "

The LITE program is up for a 20-thousand-dollar grant from Atlantic Magazine as one of 25 ideas changing America.
If they get in the top five, they can get the money, but it's based on internet votes.

Here is a link to where you can vote for LITE

Voting runs through Wednesday, February 21, 2018.