Today we’d like to introduce you to Britney Robbins.
Britney, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far. Upon moving to Chicago, I worked within the corporate sector and then transitioned to a startup company where I discovered my love for entrepreneurship. Upon leaving that role, I started working for a non-profit that exposed low-income students to entrepreneurship – where I ultimately discovered my passion. In that role, we helped expose Black and Brown youth to entrepreneurship – allowing them to see entrepreneurship as a viable option.
However, outside of classroom opportunities, there were no resources, access or opportunities for students to actually pursue that as a viable option. Many students who spent time building business plans had no real way to actualize those plans once they left the classroom. In addition to this narrative, I also saw a disparity of minority entrepreneurs working within the tech and entrepreneurial spaces where we officed and I frequented.
It was concerning that although we were encouraging minority students to pursue entrepreneurship as a viable option, even as an adult, the coworking and incubator spaces I visited had very few, if any, people that looked like me. I decided Gray Matter would be the solution to changing the narrative and providing a solution to the knowledge, resource and access gap for founders of color, starting with the youth.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way? Entrepreneurship is not an easy road! There have been many more “no”s than “yesses” and maintaining your motivation sometimes gets tough. The hardest part has been fundraising and finding people to buy into our mission and vision.
Another tough part has been that I’ve been managing the entire organization alone since it’s started. This makes it sometimes hard to ensure the organization is reaching its maximum impact and that everything is working as well as it should because my capacity is sometimes stretched very thin.
But it’s been nowhere near all bad. We’ve been able to change so many lives and really make an impact. I’ve learned so much about myself and grown so much in a short period of time. It has definitely taught me a lot about myself and what I’m capable of.
The Gray Matter Experience – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition? The Gray Matter Experience (TGME) is an entrepreneurial experience program for Black high school students. Our mission is to expose Black youth to entrepreneurship and provide them access to the tools and resources necessary to build businesses that impact their communities.
The program works with 30 of Chicago’s most motivated teens through a 12-week program where students learn business concepts directly from Black entrepreneurs. Using that knowledge, students work in groups to create businesses that help to impact underserved communities across Chicago’s South & West sides. Students that create the most viable businesses within the program are then placed into a summer business incubator, receive a portion of seed funding and work with mentors to build and launch the businesses they’ve created.
Last year, we successfully completed our pilot program – working with 14 teens representing eight underserved Chicago neighborhoods and over 25 black entrepreneurs as mentors. During that time, students gained exposure to new industries and skillsets – learning chemical engineering by creating their own hair products, 3D printing, solar panel technology, web development, DJ’ing techniques and entertainment through an interactive tour of Cinespace Studios.
As a result of the program’s training and business development, we’ve launched our first two fully teen-run, legally incorporated companies! Recruiteen, an app using GPS positioning to tackle high teen unemployment by connecting teens with part-time job opportunities in the South and West Side of Chicago and Lip Locker, an all-natural lipstick company offering Do-It-Yourself lip color solutions to enable women of color to craft the perfect shade to complement their skin tone.
We are currently in our 2nd cohort and plan to launch an additional 2-3 teen-run businesses from this cohort of students. I am proud that we’ve been able to expose so many teens to entrepreneurship content, positive role models and make their dreams a reality. What makes us different is the fact that we allow our students the opportunity to launch their own companies designed to impact their communities – giving them a voice and platform to be the change and become a part of the growing landscape of entrepreneurship.
What is “success” or “successful” for you? For me, success is being able to help someone else fulfill their purpose. Before leaving my full-time job, I had to assess, what made me feel the most fulfilled and realized that it was being able to help others live the life they loved. I figured if I’m going to spend 80% of my week working, I’d like to know that what I’m doing is helping improve the lives of others.
Success for me is not about the amount of money you make or the materials you own, but about the ability to continue learning, growing and challenging yourself, so you can ultimately take that knowledge and experience to share with others to help them along their journey.
As long as I’m always in a position to impact lives, allow people to learn from my triumphs and troubles, I will be successful. I believe the more you’re able to open yourself to do that, the more opportunities open up to allow you to gain success.
Address: 1011 W. 19th St. #3R Chicago, IL 60608