LITE Memphis Pitch Night to present the next generation of Memphis entrepreneurs

On Saturday, Dec. 10, there will be 35 high school entrepreneurs from throughout Memphis gathering at the Agricenter to compete in the LITE Memphis Pitch Night, where they’ll pitch their businesses to the audience and a panel of judges. Over the past 16 weeks, students enrolled in LITE’s Young Entrepreneur Program (YEP) learned how to develop business ideas, products, and services and, perhaps most importantly, how to bring them to fruition. The program engages Black and Latinx high school students in LITE’s mission to help close the racial wealth gap in Memphis.

Courtesy of LITE MemphisIt’s an incredible opportunity — and free. Two cohorts and their corresponding pitch nights are held each year, and registration is available online.

Not only do students get access to the knowledge that LITE and their network of community leaders and entrepreneurs have to share, but students also gain access to otherwise hard-to-find seed money and a shot at winning Pitch Night, where thousands of dollars is at stake. But it doesn’t even end there, says Larissa Gregory, Executive Director of LITE Memphis.

“Students stay with us and engage our programming until they're 24, or until they graduate college,” Gregory says. “There are ongoing workshops, opportunities, professional development and community service projects, and all types of things for them to be a part of. They can then become alumni and transition into our Innovation Fellows Program. It’s all those things, plus access to paid internships and just really neat opportunities. We follow them through college or through their post-secondary school choice, whatever it is, and make sure that they have the support and the resources they need.”

Courtesy of LITE Memphis
The LITE Memphis Pitch Night event is free and open to the public, and Gregory is encouraging the community to come out to see what the next generation of dreamers and doers has in store for Memphis. The event itself is scheduled from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10, at the Agricenter. Registration is encouraged and available online.

We spoke with LITE’s new Executive Director Larissa Gregory, where she told us all about LITE Memphis Pitch Night — both what it is, and why it’s important.

Larissa Gregory, Executive Director of LITE MemphisHigh Ground News: Congratulations on the upcoming Pitch Night. What does LITE have in store?

Larissa Gregory: We have 35 youth entrepreneurs that are going to be pitching their business ventures, and they're all for-profit business ventures this year. The neat thing about this year’s set-up is that it's going to be on Expo Saturday and we're expecting anywhere from 200 to 300 folks from the community coming out.

We'll be at the Agricenter and the students will be giving their 60-second pitches about their services or their products, and so you'll hear all about a student's business idea. You'll also be able to purchase something from a student at the Expo.

We think that part's really neat for our students. Over the course of the last 16 weeks, they've been working really hard to think through challenges in our community, potential solutions, and businesses and services or goods that aren't present in our community and in their communities. And so that's what you'll see on Saturday night.

Saturday night is about the students’ solutions to those challenges in our community. We're really, really excited for them.

Courtesy of LITE Memphis
High Ground: Can you tell us about the Young Entrepreneurs Program that leads up to Pitch Night?

Larissa: It's 16 weeks and we meet every Sunday. There are two sessions, session one and two, and each student is assigned to one or the other. And during that time, they're learning about a growth mindset, learning about business models. They're learning about how to anticipate problems, challenges, and barriers that could come up in their business. They're learning about e-commerce, they're learning about whether to have a website or to have an Instagram. They're learning about how to study your competition.

A whole host of things happens within those 16 weeks. We bring in community partners and business leaders in our community to speak with the students, to hear their business ideas and to poke holes in them, if you will, before we get started.

When I think about our kickoff, which was back in late summer, the kids came in and really didn't have an idea of what they wanted to do, for the most part. Some students came in with some existing ideas or some existing businesses, but there's some students that didn't have any idea. To see them now with a logo, a website, business cards, professional headshots, and an actual product? That's really, really exciting.

[Related: Read “As the wealth gap grows, LITE Memphis helps Black and Latinx teens launch their own businesses” on High Ground News.]

Courtesy of LITE Memphis
High Ground: How do you help students develop an idea, product, or service?

Larissa: There’s a lot of brainstorming and collaboration that happens early on. Our Director of Education and Operations, Adrian Smith, does a very good job. It’s him that fills out our curriculum over these last several years. He does a great job in helping kids explore; they start as students, and then over the course of the 16 weeks, they become youth entrepreneurs.

This work wouldn't be possible without our phenomenal staff and our committed board members. We have mentors that come in every Sunday to share their business expertise with the students. Those things combined really makes the work happen. And that really, really matters.

Another thing that's unique about LITE is that the students are given access to $1,000 in seed funding, so they have actual capital to invest in their idea. That also makes a really big difference. Having access to that type of funding is rare for young people in Black and Latinx communities. We're trying to close that gap in an effort to ultimately close the racial wealth gap in our city, for students to either own their own businesses or to have the skills necessary to secure high wage jobs. We believe that those things combined will really help close the racial wealth gap in Memphis.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Visit LITE Memphis online to learn more about the Young Entrepreneurs Program, Pitch Night, and more.

Register to attend LITE Memphis Pitch Night HERE.