BUILD To Celebrate 20th Anniversary At Gala Next Week

Student winners

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

The mission at BUILD  (which stands for Businesses United in Investing Lending and Development), a 20-year-old nonprofit that was founded in East Palo Alto is simple, yet incredibly effective: BUILD uses entrepreneurship to ignite the potential of youth from under-resourced communities and propels them to high school, college, and career success. By teaching disadvantaged kids how to create and run a business, BUILD provides the students with a pathway to prosperity. Although just four students started in BUILD’s inaugural program, the organization has gone on to serve more than 7,000 kids across the nation, and nearly all of these students graduated from high school and went on to college.

Katrina Lake

Photo Credit: Stitch Fix

BUILD’s accomplishments and 20th birthday will be celebrated this month at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco. On Saturday, March 23, BUILD is throwing its annual gala, an important fundraiser for the organization where Katrina Lake, the founder of Stitch Fix, will serve as the evening’s honoree. Lake will receive the Pitch Prize, an award named after Franklin “Pitch” Johnson, a local venture capitalist and one of BUILD’s initial donors. Previous honorees include a who’s who of startup founders—Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman, Airbnb’s Brian Chesky, Pinterest’s Ben Silbermann, GoPro’s Nick Woodman, and Box’s Aaron Levie—along with the Golden State Warriors and Marissa Mayer, but Lake is the only one who has a direct personal connection to BUILD. In 2008, Lake spent a year mentoring a team of students from Woodside High School through BUILD’s program. A handful of these students will be at the event to pay tribute to their former mentor.

Richard and Barbara Pivnicka, Cathie and Pitch Johnson at one of BUILD’s events

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

“I’m incredibly honored to have been recognized by the BUILD organization in this way,” Lake said in a statement. “When I started my career, entrepreneurship wasn’t something that seemed obvious or accessible to me. I hope that now my experience can help students in the BUILD program see what might be possible for them, and have the courage to pursue their ideas.” As the only woman to ever lead a technology company IPO and the youngest woman to take a company public, Lake is a laudable entrepreneur whom many admire. One of her biggest fans is Suzanne McKechnie Klahr, the founder of BUILD. “Katrina is an extraordinary role model for BUILD’s young entrepreneurs,” McKechnie Klahr says. “She is not only blazing a trail in the tech and retail sectors but is also inspiring those of us who are mothers, CEOs, and leaders to see what can be possible. Her commitment to her company and her community is inspiring.” 

The crowd at the 2018 gala

At the BUILD Gala guests have the chance to interact with BUILD students who are selling and showcasing their unique products and business ideas. During the dinner program, two of BUILD’s top student teams will pitch their plans, Shark Tank-style, to a panel of judges which includes Lake. The audience will also participate in the winner selection process. A live auction with once-in-a-lifetime experiences will activate the generosity in the room. When the program concludes, the after-party begins. DJ Dojah of Go-Pro and YouTube will get the crowd moving on the dance floor.  Last year’s gala raised $1.31 million and this March, BUILD’s CEO Ayele Shakur hopes to exceed that number.

BUILD students at last year’s gala

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

The impact its program has on students is overwhelming. Frejoel Munoz is an example of how BUILD can change a student’s life. The New York City high school student is in a BUILD class at the Bronx Engineering and Technical Academy. “Before BUILD I didn’t care about my work. Now I sit down and make sure I have a good grade. If I don’t have a good grade I’m stressing out,” Munoz said in a television segment produced by CBS. “When I understood what BUILD was and how I can grow a business, I made myself into a creative person in which I put many ideas and points of view together so I can create one whole product.” Munoz and his team developed a LED weatherproof vest for bike riding in the dark. Last December, at a New York Knicks basketball game, the group was awarded with the Sweetwater Clifton City Spirit Award.  BUILD positively impacted Munoz’s life and he noted the changes by describing the before and after: “I was lost. I didn’t know what I wanted in life. I didn’t know what talent I had,” Munoz said. “Now I feel like, ‘Wow, I have made it a long way.’” 

Padmasree Warrior, Aaron Levie, Monique Woodward, Megan Quinn

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

Students like Munoz will often fail without aid from organizations like BUILD. “If you go to a public school in a low-income community, especially an urban area, you have much less of a chance of succeeding because you’re going to be in a high school with lower graduation rates,” says Will Leitch, the national manager of grants and media relations at BUILD. “Your chances of failing or dropping out are higher. Your chances of not being prepared for college-level work, even if you do graduate, are greater. A student in one of these under-resourced schools in the city who does everything right—works hard, does all their homework, stays after school—will be lucky to get into a two-year community college. A student in an affluent white suburban school who does everything wrong will get into a two-year community college.”

Jennifer and Joe Montana are BUILD supporters

So how exactly does BUILD ensure that an underprivileged youth completes high school? It’s an in-school credit-bearing elective that lasts the entire year. Students choose to take the BUILD class and are broken into small teams. Each team is assigned a mentor, an adult volunteer who meets with them once a week to help oversee the development and realization of the BUILD team’s business plan. “The program is designed to engage students who otherwise don’t like school because it focuses their thinking. They get to come up with these ideas and to create a business. They get to keep all the profits that they raise,” Leitch says. “The beauty of the BUILD program is that its hands-on and forces the students to get involved.”

Jorge Maumer, Olivia Hsu Decker, Joel Goodrich

To fully understand the significance of BUILD, Leitch spent a year acting as a mentor. He says the experience was challenging at first but ultimately was incredibly rewarding. “These students know that you’re not getting paid. They know you’re not part of the school. They know you’re not a teacher. They know you could be somewhere else. Over time, because you’ve simply shown up for them, they get close to you,” he says. “The students soak up caring adults’ attention. At times I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere with them. I would look at their grades and they still weren’t doing great. But over time, I felt appreciated and realized I was making a difference by showing up.”

Nicole Curran, Lisa Goodwin, Mary Stevens, Shari Knight

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

Leitch points out that most students who experience success in the program credit their mentors. When they stand up to talk at an event like the upcoming gala, the first thing a student will do is thank their mentors. “What I’ve learned from the students is how important we as adults are in making a difference to young people by believing in them,” Leitch says. BUILD not only positively affects the students’ lives, but it also transforms the lives of its mentors and employees. As Lake puts it, “I continue to be inspired and motivated by the incredible passion and energy that these amazing young students demonstrate, and I’m proud to be part of the BUILD community.”

Learn how BUILD is changing the world by purchasing a ticket to the gala at