WIT’s annual event triggers reflection

REGION — As Whatever It Takes (WIT) gears up for its annual Showcase Event, it’s also a time when the organization looks back on its progress throughout the years. While 32 San Diego WIT teens from 15 area high schools share their unique entrepreneurial experiences at the Downtown Central Library on May 18 with community members, the day also serves as a milestone to see how far WIT has come.

Sarah Hernholm, founder and president of WIT, explained how the event day is an opportunity for people to witness social enterprises from WIT teens who are helping to create community solutions to address issues such as the environment, homelessness, STEM, the military and much more. The event is a springboard into innovation.

“In the past, we have had attendees hire teens they have heard present, or partner with teen enterprises,” Hernholm said. “It’s pretty awesome to see how many adults and organizations come out in support of this next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs.”

Established in 2009, the unwavering mission for WIT, a nine-month program, has been providing a platform for teens where creativity blooms. Headquartered in San Diego, WIT has locations based in St. Louis, Austin and New York City.

Each WIT site hosts a Showcase Event commemorating its entrepreneurial journey over the course of nine months. Hernholm pointed out that the evening is also an opportunity for teens to recognize the people and organizations who have supported their enterprises.

“Since the launch of WIT, the mission has become revolutionizing the high school experience for all teens by providing real-world entrepreneur education and access to the tools needed to live with an entrepreneurial mindset,” Hernholm said. “WIT is the place where you can learn how to navigate failure, step outside your comfort zone, utilize your talents for good, meet people outside your school, realize and live into your potential — and make the world a better place along the way.”

Hernholm extends a huge thanks to its event sponsors Ashford University, Mission Federal, Moxie Foundation, KIND, UCSD Extension, Fieldstone Foundation, and most recently Downtown Works (DW).

“DW has been a great partner to WIT, not only as a sponsor for this event, but it hosts our Downtown WIT Class and the teens love working out of such a cool co-work space alongside adult entrepreneurs,” she said.

According to Hernholm, WIT was recognized by INC. Magazine as one of the “top nine” teen entrepreneur programs in the nation. WIT raises the bar by affording high school teens with the opportunity to earn six transferable credits from UCSD Extension. Additionally, since the organization’s inception eight years ago, the natural cycle of time is enabling them to hire some of their WIT alumni following college graduation.

“In WIT, we aim to empower teens to combine the thing they are passionate about with a cause they care about — and launch a social enterprise around those two things,” Hernholm said. “I have always felt that if people were doing the thing they loved — which was also making a positive impact — we would all walk in the world differently. We would be living, what I call, “on purpose,” which makes us show up in the world a little kinder, happier and fulfilled.”

While the current WIT group moves onto the next chapter of their lives, a new door opens. For those interested in pursuing a future WIT admission, application season is open and teens are encouraged to apply. Following application submittal, a personal interview or one conducted via Skype takes place. Accepted teens are then navigated to their designated cohort.

“WIT is looking for teens who feel a hunger for making a difference and a desire for real-world business and leadership experience,” Hernholm said.

Hernholm pointed out that WIT provides financial aid for tuition.

“WIT doesn’t provide ‘full ride’ aid — we think it’s important that each teen contributes and invests in their WIT experience since they will be asking others to invest in their future enterprise,” she said.

The program kicks off in September and ends in May. On a weekly basis, teens meet with their cohort. The first round of preparations is for “Pitch Night” in October. This evening is best described as an opportunity for the teens to pitch their groundbreaking ideas to attendees, including individuals such as educators, city officials, chief executive officers and entrepreneurs.

“Based on the feedback they receive, teens either pivot or move full steam ahead to launching their enterprise,” Hernholm said. “The expectation is that all enterprises are launched by December. We push for this launch because we want our teens to get market feedback as soon as possible.”

The projects aren’t impacted by grades but are instead motivational in nature.

“Obviously we want our teens to experience a success with their enterprise, Hernholm said. “But personally, I see success in WIT as a teen coming out of the experience with greater emotional intelligence, a greater sense of self-confidence and self-worth. And the proof that they matter and can make a big impact.”

To learn more about WIT, visit doingwit.org.

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