BUILD announced the success of its 20th Anniversary Gala held March 23 at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco, with the event raising $1.4 million to support its program that teaches entrepreneurship to high school students from under-resourced communities.
Katrina Lake, Founder and CEO of Stitch Fix, was honored with the Pitch Prize in recognition of her entrepreneurial spirit and her personal involvement as a former BUILD Mentor for three years. The “Pitch Prize” is named after Franklin “Pitch” Johnson, one of BUILD’s first and most important investors and one of the first venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. Johnson attended the event.
“It was such an honor to be a part of BUILD’s 20th celebration surrounded by so many incredible friends and family of BUILD,” said Lake. “I was blown away by the creativity of the students and am very excited to see how they continue to grow with the program.”
BUILD alumnus Theron “T.J.” Jones was the keynote speaker. Jones was in the first BUILD class of four students who graduated high school in 2003. After describing the tragedy and violence that impacted his upbringing in East Palo Alto, Jones credited BUILD with helping him rise above his circumstances and succeed in life.
“BUILD taught me how to start a profitable business in high school, helped me get featured in the NY Times and helped me earn admission to Emory University,” said Jones. “It gave me the skills to launch my own DJ company, which put me through college and paid for my home down payment. I also learned intangibles like being a go-getter, speaking with confidence, and perhaps most importantly, the perspective to seek the positive in any negative situation.”
Jones recently left a career in finance after 11 years to pursue his passion for software engineering. A 2007 graduate of Emory University, he is married with one child and another one on the way.
“BUILD plants the idea that we are more than sufficient, that our talents can have both intangible and realized value, and, most important of all – that we can be each other’s own positive feedback loops,” Theron said.
As part of the night, two BUILD high school student business teams—Trash to Treasure from Oakland and ALO from New York City, competed in a Pitch Competition to a panel of VIP judges which included Lake, Andy Tryba, founder and CEO of Think3, Sarah Tavel, General Partner at Benchmark Capital, Mohamed Fahmi, Deputy Regional Managing Director of First Republic Bank, and Joe Montana, former San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame quarterback. In addition, 20 other BUILD student business teams sold their products at a business expo as part of the event.
Ayele Shakur, BUILD CEO, surprised BUILD’s founder and former CEO, Suzanne McKechnie Klahr, by announcing that BUILD has launched a $500k Scholarship and Tribute Fund in honor of Klahr’s twenty years of leadership.
“When I founded BUILD 20 years ago with four students in East Palo Alto, I never could’ve imagined I’d be standing here tonight,” said McKechnie Klahr. “The idea that using entrepreneurship could propel young people to extraordinary heights while also teaching them the real skills required for academic and professional success felt so clear to me but was so hard to convince so many others of. But look at us now! In this room are students, alumni, educators, community leaders, titans of industry, family and friends, who paved the way for this journey and I am deeply humbled to have spent these two decades fighting for our beautiful young people hand in hand with you.”
Shakur, who was the founding Executive Director of BUILD’s program in Boston, was named CEO last June.
“I’m excited to build on our solid foundation, and to also bring some fresh ideas,” Shakur said. “We’re launching a new licensed partnership program that will help BUILD scale to new cities, and exploring ways to move BUILD into a digital age using technology.”
BUILD Board Member Baratunde Thurston served as the event’s emcee.