Starting a business sounds intimidating when you’re 40, let alone when you’re in high school or college. But for Jordan Williams, a rising junior in the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania studying economics and marketing, if you have an idea, “the perfect time is always now.”
That entrepreneurial attitude led Williams, at age 19, to create the Youth Entrepreneurs Diversity Corporation, or YED Corp. The goal: To equip minority college students with the resources to launch their business ideas.
Williams had an early zeal for entrepreneurship, from a creating a four-page newspaper in elementary school with a friend and distributing it during lunch breaks to selling used video games in middle school. “I think a lot of parents hated it because our friends would always ask for a few dollars to buy a video game,” says Williams. “In middle school and elementary school, we were always known as the kids to go to for games.”
To Williams, entrepreneurship is about more than money. It’s a form of self-expression, independence, and a way to transform his community. Inspired by watching his father run his own business and create opportunities for his community, Williams sees entrepreneurship as a way to improve people’s lives.
Throughout Williams’ journey as an entrepreneur, the UNCF/Koch Scholars program has shaped his overall vision through what he describes as “experimental learning.” Instead of just sitting in a lecture, UNCF/Koch Scholars gave Williams the opportunity to test what was being taught. “It’s always been really practical, not something that’s just theoretical,” he says. “It’s information that you can take and apply as soon as you leave.”
Williams’ two years as a UNCF/Koch Scholar inspired to him to form YED Corp. The non-profit provides young entrepreneurs with networking opportunities, which have been invaluable for Williams in his own career. He’s also developing YED Corp’s first summit—which will be held on July 21, 2018 in New York City—and considering summits across the country.
“We want to put positive role models in front of students so they can go to these people when they have questions or when they are encountering different obstacles that mentors have been through in the past,” says Williams.
Williams has used those connections in his own career. In 2014, when he was in high school, he and his business partner started Young Moguls Brand, an urban clothing line that promotes the positive message of entrepreneurship to young adults through on-trend fashions. But like any entrepreneur, he hit some road bumps. “When we started Young Moguls Brand, we were only sophomores in high school and we didn’t really have any income to pay for the manufacturing and marketing strategies. I think it made us get a little creative, and we decided to use crowdfunding.”
When launching YED Corp’s first summit, Williams had to once again tap into his network for advice on a variety of issues, from approaching sponsors to deciding on ticket prices. “Sometimes all it takes is a different person with a different perspective to throw an idea your way,” he says. “It might just be that you needed someone else’s eyes to see the problem to get to that solution.”
Williams sees his non-profit as a mini-UNCF/Koch Scholars program, but with a heightened emphasis on expanding opportunities for individuals with an entrepreneurial mindset. “You don’t necessarily have to be an exceptional student,” he says. “We want to make this summit open to everyone who wants to attend—we want it to be all about learning and meeting other people.”
What’s next for Williams? After graduating, he hopes to become a financial advisor, build out YED Corp beyond just college students to high school and middle school students, and even develop a suit line for Young Moguls Brand. “You don’t have to wait until your older or until after you graduate,” he says. “You can pursue your passion and pursue your dream even at whatever age that you’re at.”
Since 2014, the Charles Koch Foundation has partnered with the United Negro College Fund and Koch Industries to offer African-American students financial assistance, academic and business mentoring, and networking opportunities. What sets the scholarship apart is its focus on Principled Entrepreneurship™, which can create positive change to both individuals and society. Learn more about the program.
Visit the Youth Entrepreneurs Diversity Corporation website for more information about upcoming summits and how to take part.