The BGV Insiders: Social Entrepreneur Brittany Young Is Bringing STEM Education to Her Community
Brittany Young is an engineer and social entrepreneur passionate about bringing STEM education to her community. She is the Founder of Baltimore-based social enterprise B-360 (Be The Revolution), which draws on the city's prevalent dirt bike culture to teach underserved youth about road safety, design, mechanics, 3D printing, and more. A force for change, Brittany has been named a TED Fellow and Echoing Green Fellow and widely featured in media outlets, including CBS, Forbes, NBC, Teen Vogue, and VICE. She is also a BGV Alumni, who was the winner of our first Baltimore pitch competition in 2017. She graciously carved out some time to speak with us about her entrepreneurial journey and how she is navigating the current crisis.
What is your background, and why did you decide to launch a social venture?
"First and foremost, I'm just a Black girl from Baltimore who loves my city."
I worked as a STEM professional doing everything from programming nuclear plants to manufacturing medical devices to planetary science. I also taught K-12 technology in Baltimore city, and managed programs at a community college to better integrate people without 4-year degrees to careers with NASA. But first and foremost, I'm just a Black girl from Baltimore who loves my city and cities like mine.
What is B360's mission, and what services do you offer?
B360 is a social enterprise with a hybrid model based on solving two problems: better access and cultural relevance to STEM education and the need for programmatic solutions to shift dirt bike culture off the streets. In cities like Baltimore and every major city, people ride dirt bikes in the streets, but the only thing the city government has done to stop this has been the use of a dirt bike police task-force or extreme laws. Growing up, I remember a lot of riders fixing their dirt bikes, knowing how to pop wheelies - which is a physics equation - and seeing the beauty in the culture.
Our STEM education program is a nonprofit that teaches the engineering design process, mechanics, and overall safety to get people out of the streets. If you're under 16, you join in the program, and if you're over 16, we hire you as an instructor. At the end of programming, instructors and students produce a performance to display their skills safely.
Our for-profit arm focuses on government consulting around better practices, how to create spaces for riders, and creating events specifically for the style of riding that can bring money to cities as well monetary support to dirt bike riders.
What is the entrepreneurial landscape like in Baltimore?
Baltimore is listed as one of the top five cities for social innovation, women in business, and small businesses.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced as a Black woman founder?
Being a Black woman in business is a strength, 100 percent. Yet we often have to deal with funders regularly challenging our ideas or business because they can not understand.
"We don't need validation to do our work - we need financial contributions."
The biggest challenge has been people wanting to argue with me about the needs of my community, which they aren't a part of. Or they want to understand why instead of realizing how it works. We don't need validation to do our work - we need financial contributions. We have plenty of accolades, which is nice, but dollars behind the work and access to real capital is more than needed.
How did you get involved with Black Girl Ventures? Why are communities/ecosystems like Black Girl Ventures important?
In 2017, BGV was the first pitch competition I ever won. I needed that win because I had been approached to do pitch competitions and been a part of some before and lost. It felt good to have my community vote on the winner and sow a seed in me. Then the idea that Black women will win is life-changing. Yes, Black women businesses thrive at 60% more than other businesses, but we sometimes struggle to get the capital we need.
"It felt good to have my community vote on the winner and sow a seed in me."
An ecosystem just for Black women to thrive, powered by a Black woman, is more than needed and appreciated. Being a Black woman founder is rewarding, but it can also make you feel alone in your journey, and we need support.
Brittany Young with Black Girl Ventures Founder & CEO Shelly Bell at a 2017 BGV pitch competition.
How has the coronavirus crisis impacted you on both a personal and professional level?
Personally, it is a blessing to be able to say I'm at home and safe with my family because many cannot. Professionally, we do direct service programming with vendor relationships with schools and government entities, so that has stopped our work for now. We're pivoting our model to virtual programming. While there are grants for small business relief, there aren't many for businesses that do not have full-time employees, which furthers the economic disparity and opportunity gap.
"While there are grants for small business relief, there aren't many for businesses that do not have full-time employees, which furthers the economic disparity and opportunity gap."
It's obvious some people that made the CARES Act didn't have all people at the table to ensure all businesses survive. In addition, grants are strictly going to direct relief. It seems that no one at the moment cares about educational programming or services. Until I see a grant or access to a funder that doesn't turn my proposal for programming down, I will continue to feel this way.
How have you pivoted? What are some of your upcoming initiatives at B-360?
We're creating a virtual platform for our curriculum, launching online experiments, and of course, making masks and apparel. Get ready - we're also going to be rolling out a fun game that's also educational around what we do to continue to engage our community. We are also working with some of our instructors over 16 who are trained mechanics to start providing at-home car and dirt bike maintenance and more. The biggest thing has been making sure we can have access to disinfectants and masks to keep them safe.
What do you need the most right now? How can people support B360?
"Before this, we served over 7,000 students, had 324 enrolled and employed 17 ex-offenders. I need help to continue our work, reach our students, and keep people employed."
The biggest thing we need is access to real capital. I have applied for any and every COVID relief fund available, written proposal, and have had no luck. Before this, we served over 7,000 students, had 324 enrolled and employed 17 ex-offenders. I need help to continue our work, reach our students, and keep people employed.
What advice do you have for aspiring social entrepreneurs?
Make sure you see yourself and your community as an asset in the language you use: you control the narrative. Far too often, we can perpetuate how others view us. Never should we have those we serve thinking we pity or look down on them or have come to save them.
"Make sure you see yourself and your community as an asset in the language you use: you control the narrative."
Also, people can get caught up in media and hype - entrepreneurship is hard, period. Do the work, try things out, fail fast, come back, rework on it, and never be afraid to get uncomfortable.
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