Choffin inspires ‘downtrodden’ entrepreneurs – Business Journal Daily

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Seeing the lack of opportunity her family faced during her youth, Billi’e Craige decided she wanted to make a change and help local minorities reach their potential.

Craige, a June graduate of East High School in Youngstown, started her brand, Underdog University, as part of her project at Choffin Career & Technical Center. The school ended the school year with a “Shark Tank” type event for students in its entrepreneurship program.
“At Underdog University, the idea is to inspire young minds and teach them about finance and lifestyle to build more businesses for other people and help out,” says Craige.

His brand idea has grown tremendously over the past 1½ years. What started as an idea for a small clothing brand turned into an educational podcast recorded in the Choffin music studio.

“The name – Underdog University – actually comes from a 50 Cent song that I really like and one of my favorite songs when I was a kid,” says Craige. “The ‘underdog’ also came from an ad I saw [that] said that the people who work the hardest and who you would think will succeed – sometimes they come out on top.

Craige views minorities as outsiders, she says. Her podcast – teaching lessons about self-care, finances and other essential skills – is intended to help these people reach their potential.

“I made the decision not to go to a traditional college, which everyone would assume I was doing,” she says. “So for me, it’s a different decision for me than going to traditional college, starting my own university, and helping people in day-to-day life.”

Clothing — although that’s no longer its primary focus — still plays a vital role in the brand, Craige says. The clothing line, she says, will include a variety of professional items such as blazers, suits and jewelry, in unusual colors, and incorporate these ideas into new trends.

“I feel like we’re missing a lot of time, especially here in Youngstown, professional clothes,” Craige says. “We have JCPenney and Macy’s, but we don’t have a lot of outside brands to turn to. I want to create that professional style while mixing in some personality.

Erra’Ci Hines, a senior at Chaney High School, also took advantage of this class to meet the needs of members of his community. His brand idea, “Smile”, includes both a clothing line and a “hair salon on wheels”.

“I want to be mobile,” she says. “I think that’s the most important thing in Youngstown. People don’t want to get on the bus. But a lot of people don’t drive. I think it would be a good thing to give back to the community.

Hines says his idea is for all ages. With her mobile capabilities, she says she could travel to places such as nursing homes where it is difficult for residents to leave or to attend events for school children who may need services before returning. at school.

Carissa Benchwick is an entrepreneurship trainer at Choffin. She says her two-year program has 18 students.

“Throughout the year, students learn the program from start to finish,” says Benchwick. “We cover all the bases of the segments. There are nine segments in their business plan, which is a lean canvas. They learn from September until May.

Benchwick says the course work stems from the Teaching and Entrepreneurship Network curriculum.
“Their junior year is mostly their idea for the event,” she says. “The goal is that when they return to their final year for business, they continue to start their business.”

Choffin has a lot to offer students learning entrepreneurship, Benchwick says.

“Once you trigger a little shift in their mind, they start to think about things differently,” she says. “I have a few junior students who actually make products for a separate business idea they have and they sell them to me. So I noticed changes throughout the year. They begin to see opportunities and take advantage of them.

In addition to the business education, the senior students were paired with Michael Pontikos, owner of Sokitnop Design and senior lecturer in the management-marketing department at Youngstown State University. He acted as the creative director of student logos in the “Shark Tank” project.

Businessman Michael Pontikos worked with teacher Carissa Benchwick.

Pontikos has been working in the field of branding, design, advertising and marketing for approximately 25 years. Benchwick brought him on board to help students create logos after seeing his work for area companies such as Burgan Real Estate and Penguin City Beer.

“Hearing the stories of these kids and what they wanted to do,” Pontikos says, “I felt they needed a professionally designed logo.”

Pontikos says working with students was an experience that also taught him lessons.

“I teach a creative strategies course and I go through this whole process of what goes into developing a brand, or a look and feel, and what it is,” he says. “I was able to bring that into this classroom and explain to the students that it’s not just a logo. Your personality will be part of it.

The students came up with their own ideas, which Pontikos helped piece together. They weren’t treated like high school students, he said, but more like customers.

Pontikos says it was his way of leveraging his expertise and “paying it forward.

“This experience has been great,” he says. “It helped me become a better designer and a better business consultant. I was asked a few questions and I was like, ‘Wow, I never thought of that before.’ »

Students say they enjoyed their classroom experience and the preparation for the event. One thing that particularly stood out for Hines was the support they received, both from the efforts of Pontikos working with them to create free professional logos and from Benchwick’s teaching.

“I know I don’t tell my teacher enough. But I wouldn’t be here without Miss Benchwick,’ she said. “I really appreciate his support and trust. Even if one day I don’t know what to do, she is ready to pick me up and help me.

Pictured above: Billi’e Craige says her brand reflects her business mission to help minorities.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.

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