It’s hard to believe that my venture, Philly Phit, was in the CEL Incubator over five years ago, because, honestly, the experience has crossed my mind nearly every day since.
The CEL program was not what it is now—a fully integrated and comprehensive part of SCH’s curriculum where kids 5th-12th grade can experience the wonders and woes of entrepreneurship every day. When I joined the Incubator, it was kind of a running joke among classmates as something “try-hards” joined if they wanted more work and something to get them into college. However, that thought never really crossed my mind until I was filling out college applications and had to answer the question “What has had the greatest impact on your life?”—and it was the easiest question of them all. So, in the end, I am grateful for CEL for helping me get into college. And for showing me a whole world outside of my own. And for teaching me what passion is. And by far most importantly, for giving me the kind of motivation one can only find through utter, beautiful failure.
Philly Phit—a nonprofit designed to transform nutrition education for underserved students in Philadelphia (every good venture has a tagline I learned) was born and raised at SCH. Thanks to CEL, I was able to turn this loose concept into a fully functional reality. I recruited 35 wonderful SCH students as volunteer-mentors; I worked with the trusted Ms. Fish [SCH PE director] to create a curriculum that combined nutrition education, games, and physical activity; I partnered with the Boys and Girls Club in Germantown to instruct their Kindergarten class; and I guilted four teachers into driving us there twice a week. Soon enough, into my sophomore year of high school, Philly Phit was up and running to help make kids’ days and futures a little brighter.
There you have it—that was it. The shiny part at least. Underneath it all were study halls and lunches spent on hair-brained business plans, matching volunteer schedules, creating logos, brand-concepting, trying to build a semi-functional website while pretending to understand the coding course I promised Mr. Glassman I would take, and reminding myself I was too far in to give up. All that, paired with a whole lot of help from my ever-patient, saint-like mentors, made Philly Phit possible. And the kids that we worked with made it ever so worth it.
One of the biggest hurdles I encountered was finding funding (which may sound familiar to those in the nonprofit world). To address this tiny little issue, CEL helped me seek out opportunities to pitch in front of potential investors. After several pitches on SCH turf, Mr. Glassman convinced me I was ready for the big leagues—a pitch at the University of Pennsylvania to an organization named GenHERation, which mentors female high school students into the best and brightest entrepreneurs. After a summer break to “prepare” by not actually opening my laptop at all, I walked into Wharton’s grandiose, spaceship-like Huntsman Hall ready for my venture to take off. In reality, I arrived to the pitch competition completely unprepared and quite frankly a little cocky.
Soon, my time to pitch came after watching dozens of young women present unbelievably well-crafted slides (of which I had none), and in full honesty, it could not have gone worse. I not only misspoke what I wanted to present—I ended up not really saying anything at all. I stood there, frozen and red-faced, as over 50 people watched me stutter over my second sentence for an eternal few minutes. My scribbled index card quickly became illegible in my sweaty hands and I knew it was over. I walked off the stage, horrifically mortified and vowed to never enter the building again.
This vow, of course, proved to be very untrue, as I attended classes in the very same building for all four years of college. Ironically, one of the lectures I attended in this building at the beginning of my sophomore year at Wharton hosted a fabulous guest speaker who was none other than the founder of the company that turned female high school students into the best and brightest entrepreneurs—GenHERation. I decided to face my fear and introduce myself to her and thank her for speaking to us, mentioning I had admired her company since participating in their pitch competition years ago. To which she replied that she attended the pitch competition I participated in and remembered exactly who I was and all about my venture and then I blacked out anything else she said as my mortification returned. It was that bad.
And yet, it made me so much better.
I came to two conclusions right then and there, as I learned that my most embarrassing failure was not only public and noticeable but memorable; first, you can never be overprepared; and second, I was going to become the best public speaker I had ever met. I went directly to the class registration office and signed up for a life-changing public speaking course. As my stuttering dwindled, my venture ideas multiplied. The next semester, I placed 3rd in an MBA-level pitch competition course that I wasn’t even technically allowed to be in. I met with Red and Blue Ventures and joined Wharton’s Entrepreneurship community where I developed and pitched ideas throughout my college career, one of which has turned into a patent-pending. While I have a long way to go, I was lucky enough to get to work on my goal from that day on, thanks to the spark CEL started almost six years prior.
This story is not confined to a CEL flashback—this is the story I told in the interview where I got my job. I now present monthly to PepsiCo’s Marketing Department across their water brands and am known as one of the best presenters on the team as its youngest member. So, thank you, CEL, for getting me into college. And my first job. And into my greatest passion. Thanks to you (Mr. Glassman and team), I am not done yet.
And I will never bring a scribbled index card to a slide fight again.
by Annabel Grove ’17 | Associate Marketing Analyst at PepsiCo (Water+ Portfolio)
Over the past 10 years, the Sands Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL) has become a cornerstone of the SCH educational experience. It is a program as substantial in its educational content as in its inspirational impact. In celebration of the CEL's 10th anniversary this May, we published a commemorative booklet with the voices of those thought leaders who have had a role in shaping the CEL since its inception. We look forward to sharing these articles leading up to CEL’s milestone event as it continues to provide opportunity, devise creative solutions, effect positive change, and more for the future of education at SCH Academy.