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The nonprofit founder empowers underserved Chicago youth

AGE: 32 LIVES IN: Pilsen CLAIM TO FAME: Robbins founded Gray Matter (, a nonprofit providing entrepreneurship opportunities for high school students in disadvantaged communities. BUSINESS SAVVY: During the free 12-week program, participants learn skills like how to build a marketing and financial plan. They then take that knowledge to create and launch their own companies. “We want to help fix some of the inequities students face on a daily basis and rebuild their local economic structure,” says Robbins. Those who complete the program receive a stipend to use toward paying for higher education or as startup seed money. SUCCESS STORIES: Brands that got their start with Gray Matter include Lip Locker, all-natural DIY lipstick for minority women; and RecruiTeen, an app that connects teens with employers hiring for part-time jobs in Chicago. FIRST VISION: Robbins graduated from the University of Illinois in 2009. She landed a role at nonprofit Future Founders, which Robbins says “shaped everything” she does today. While commuting from Future Founders’ downtown office to its partner schools on the South and West Sides, Robbins saw the landscape shift. “It gave me unrest,” she says. “So I bet on myself and launched Gray Matter.” SIDE PASSION: Robbins has a 12-year-old Yorkie, Duval, who inspired her debut 2015 children’s book, The Adventures of Buster & Duval: Buster’s Big Move. “I have 12 nieces and nephews and wanted them to have proof you can do anything you want,” she says. LIVING LOCAL: The self-described homebody loves the West Loop and often works from the Ace (311 N. Morgan) and Hoxton (200 N. Green) hotels and dines at Green Street Smoked Meats (112 N. Green) and Chicken Shop (113 N. Green). “I don’t leave Pilsen often, though,” says Robbins. UP NEXT: Plans are to pilot Gray Matter in a few other cities this year and develop curriculum any city can adopt and scale. “For black communities, entrepreneurship is freedom,” says Robbins. “We want to be a truly viable solution to a real problem, not just another nonprofit.”

Photo by Lisa Hinsberger


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