Entrepreneurship is critical to the vitality of the local economy and a resource for community health and well-being. Creating a culture of entrepreneurship among community residents generates empowerment within the communities in which they live. You could actually feel that empowerment as the five finalists from the Southeast Raleigh Innovation Challenge took the stage and gave their final pitch to over 200 people on October 20th. We were honored to be part of this incredible initiative and have the opportunity to partner with United Way of the Greater Triangle, Wake County, Carolina Small Business Development Fund and the City of Raleigh in order to support entrepreneurship in Southeast Raleigh.

The challenge started with concept pitches by 53 individuals and groups who identified solutions to economic and social issues and wanted to make an investment in Southeast Raleigh’s future. Participants who made it to the next round had access to a business accelerator, coaching and the chance to win from a prize pool of $120,000.

Lydia Newman was one those 53 pitches and the top winner of the Challenge. Lydia’s business proposal for Word of God Christian Academy Tech Career Pathways is to increase tech job skills and college prep for Southeast Raleigh students in grades 8-12. These “Tech Ambassadors” will develop culturally relevant tech-related activities. Lydia tells us in her own words what this opportunity has meant to her and what it will mean for the community:

For the past 5 1/2 years, I’ve attended church services in SE Raleigh and it’s truly an honor to be part of a partnership that is providing what I like to call a gateway into the high-tech workforce pipeline for the Southeast Raleigh community.

As we collaborate to teach youth skills that will help them succeed in the tech labor market, we’ll hopefully increase the likelihood that Southeast Raleigh youth will develop an interest in tech and pursue it as a career. The Southeast Raleigh Innovation Challenge was as a Launchpad for the Tech Career Pathways initiative. It was such a rewarding experience. The knowledge gained in the six-week accelerator program helped us to further refine our ideas. We applied the concepts and strategies in real time and as a result, we’ll spend less time and money during our launching phase.


Through the Southeast Raleigh Innovation Challenge, United Way of the Greater Triangle and its partners have provided a great example of what can be accomplished when people work together. That theme (collaboration) resonated throughout the entire process. Planning and strategy development are key to the entrepreneurial process. However, it can be easy to over analyze and over develop your product or service before testing it with your target market. After you’ve nailed down your business model (I strongly recommend using Ash Maurya’s 1-page business plan modeling tool), create a prototype of your product or service, launch it and get feedback from your ideal customers. Incorporate their feedback into further product development and repeat.

For now, our top priorities are 1) program implementation, 2) fundraising, 3) sharing our vision to key stakeholders in order to develop strategic partnerships and 4) raising awareness about careers in tech. Our current Tech Career Pathways at Word of God Christian Academy partners include:

United Way of the Greater Triangle
TheLaborMarket.org
Wake County
City of Raleigh
Carolina Small Business Development Fund
Southeast Raleigh Promise
Yoga4us

Lydia wasn’t the only winner on final pitch night. The following entrepreneurs were recognized and awarded:

  • Second place ($30,000): Major Best for Barber School. Major wants to create a barber college which will bring resources and job opportunities to the community and focus on at-risk youth and formerly incarcerated individuals.
  • Third place ($20,000) and People’s Choice Award ($2500): Jana Avery for No Friday’s for Music. A nonprofit centered on the artistic and personal development of Southeast Raleigh youth, focused on the skill development needed to work in the music industry.
  • Fourth place (tie, $5000 each). Malikia Robertson for and Keschia Martin for Players2Pros
  • Five participants receiving Seed Capital Awards were: Brandy Burnett for Smart Money Matters; Fernando Martinez for Education Justice Alliance Peacebuilders; Wilma Metcalf for The Baby Box; Nathaniel Myers for The Malkuta Project; Darryel Washington for Front and Back 9 Junior Golf Academy