High school juniors Tony Bernardo and Ashanti Brown knew they wanted to attend college, but they had no idea what their career paths would look like. But their paths came into focus through innovate:miami, which brings together Miami-Dade high school students and University of Miami graduate students to design a social impact enterprise that addresses an existing problem.

Innovate:miami is a program of the UM Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER), which is housed at the School of Business. Bernardo and Brown were among the program’s latest crop of students – all from Breakthrough Miami, an academic enrichment program for students from underserved communities. Innovate:miami students spend three months defining the problems, devising matching solutions and designing detailed business plans, then they pitch them to a panel of judges for the chance to win $2,000. Bernardo and Brown’s team, which won the competition, pitched an arts education program for disadvantaged students, a plan they hope to actually implement this summer and possibly beyond.

“I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur before, but now I want to minor in business in college,” says Bernardo, a student at New World School of the Arts. “It was really exciting figuring out how a business can grow.” Brown, a student at Robert Morgan Educational Center who now wants to major in business and marketing and pursue a career in public relations or advertising, says, “I got to see how a business plan comes together and how you market and sell products.”

Such realizations are exactly what Jorge Mendez (MAIA ’15) hoped for when he launched the program as a graduate student in 2014; he’s now its program director (he also works at Miami Dade College’s The Idea Center). Innovate:miami pairs each team of four students with a mentor from the University and real-life community leaders in their chosen field. Bernardo and Brown were paired with executives at The Motivational Edge, a local nonprofit that uses art to motivate students. “This year was the first time we paired the groups with community leaders, so we could expose the students to adults who are making a change in the community,” Mendez says. “The students got great feedback on what it’s like to run a company in the real world.”


Spring 2017
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