Why does BUILD exist?

  • About half of students in low-income communities won’t graduate from high school by the time they’re 18 years old. Those who do graduate will perform, on average, at an eighth-grade level.
  • Only 1 in 10 students from low-income communities will graduate from college.
  • Over their lifetimes, high-school dropouts make $250,000 less than high-school graduates and $1 million less than college graduates.
  • If one-third of dropouts graduated from high school, the federal government would save $10.8 billion each year in public assistance.

We are in a time of an unprecedented focus on the nation’s unfulfilled promise of educational equity and opportunity. BUILD is part of the solution. We provide students who are most at risk of failing or dropping out of high school with a reason to stay in school and we offer the support they need to make it happen.

What is BUILD’s mission?

BUILD’s mission is to use entrepreneurship to excite and propel disengaged, low-income youth through high school to college success.

What does BUILD do?

BUILD is a youth entrepreneurship and college-preparation program that uniquely works with students at highest risk of dropping out of high school. Founded with four students in East Palo Alto in 1999, BUILD now works with 700 students annually and operates five sites nationwide.

Who does BUILD serve?

BUILD seeks to serve students who are not college-tracked, lack motivation and are often considered the “trouble-makers” in the classroom. Many of our students have been dismissed by educators as not “college material” and placed in classes that do not meet minimum college requirements. BUILD proves that these students also can be college material with the right opportunities and preparation. There is no minimum GPA to enter BUILD.

Who are these youth?

  • 75% on average qualify for free/reduced school lunch
  • 80% are of the first generation in their family to attend college
  • 95% are of ethnicities under-represented in American universities

Where does BUILD operate?

In the San Francisco Bay Area, Washington, D.C. and Boston.

How is the program structured?

BUILD is a four-year program. Students get involved as freshmen when they enroll in BUILD’s elective, “Introduction to Entrepreneurship.” Students attend the class daily and also meet one evening a week with volunteer mentors invested in their entrepreneurial and academic success. Students form business teams and take on the roles of CEO and CFO as they write comprehensive business plans with accompanying financial statements. The year culminates with our Annual Youth Business Plan Competitions held at prestigious universities in communities we serve. Winners receive seed funding to launch their business ventures.

In 10th grade, BUILD becomes an after-school program. Graduates of BUILD’s 9th-grade course meet weekly across the country in our Youth Academic and Business Incubator, the largest of its kind in the nation. For two years, they work with their mentors and business teammates to launch and operate successful micro-enterprises. They also receive academic tutoring and individualized advising, resources that help ensure that students thrive in school. Students go on college trips, take an SAT/ACT prep course and attend numerous selling events throughout each year.

As seniors, BUILD students are ready to use the skills they developed as young entrepreneurs to market themselves to the colleges of their choice. With help from BUILD mentors, they package their BUILD experience into a portfolio, identify “stretch” and “safety” schools, write admissions essays and prepare college applications. BUILD collaborates with parents/guardians to explore students’ scholarship and financial-aid options, and shepherds them through the school selection, admission and enrollment processes. Students continue coming to the Incubator through high school graduation and eligible graduates receive BUILD scholarships upon entering their freshman year of college.

What are BUILD’s results?

  • 99% of seniors graduate from high school
  • 95% are accepted to college (91% of the class of 2010 were admitted to four-year colleges/universities)

Do you have volunteers?

BUILD has nearly 300 volunteer mentors who devote 90 minutes once a week to our students. We maintain a 3:1 student-volunteer ratio. All mentors have college degrees and frequently are business or tech professionals from around our communities. Other volunteers help on a more limited basis. These hundreds of people help edit student business plans, serve as Venture Capital Advisors or provide pro-bono graphic design. 91% of volunteers work with students throughout the entire school year.

How is BUILD funded?

BUILD is funded by private donations from generous foundations, corporations, individuals and in-kind support from community partners.

How did BUILD get started?

BUILD began in 1999, when Suzanne McKechnie Klahr was offering business start-up assistance to adult entrepreneurs in East Palo Alto, an under-resourced community adjacent to resource-rich Silicon Valley. One day, four high school students walked in and said, “Lady, we’re done with school and want to start a business.” Suzanne said she would help them start a business on one condition: They had to stay in school and work hard. So Suzanne taught them basic entrepreneurship and located investors to help incorporate their t-shirt and sweatshirt company. All remained in school, graduated and went on to college. BUILD was born. The program expanded to Oakland in 2004, Washington D.C. in 2008 and Boston in 2010.

How can I get involved?

In Boston: Ayele Shakur, ashakur@build.org or (617) 239-8219 

In DC: Christopher Brown, christopher@build.org or (202) 535-0041 

In the SF Bay Area: Dominique Ta, bayareavolunteers@build.org or (650) 319-8180 

To Donate: Chrystine Lawson Villarreal, cvillarreal@build.org or (650) 688-5852

Student Testimonials





E1-Alumni Program
(Why it works)

Entrepreneurs 1 (E1) – Freshmen:
Planning a Business

Entrepreneurs 1 (E1) - Freshmen: Planning a Business

Entrepreneurs 2 (E2) – Sophomore:
Running a Business

Entrepreneurs 2 (E2) - Sophomore: Running a Business

Entrepreneurs 3 (E3) – Junior:
Preparing for College

Entrepreneurs 3 (E3) - Junior: Preparing for College

Donate Now

Learn more about mentoring with BUILD!

In the Bay Area  |  In D.C.  |  In Boston

Download the mentor application and apply for the 2014-2015 academic year.


BUILD Headquarters: 2385 Bay Road •  Redwood City, CA 94063

T: 650.688.5840    F: 650.631.4990