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The Power of Impact: Young grads of USVI entrepreneurial program return for more business, life lessons

CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U. S. Virgin Islands – October 7, 2020 — Dreams of entrepreneurship resonated within the minds of young men this summer as the Enterprise Zone Commission (EZC), in partnership with the Office of the Territorial Public Defender of the U.S. Virgin Islands and USVI non-profit organization Youth Arise, Inc., hosted EntrepreNow in the USVI. EntrepreNow was held virtually this year, in partnership with OmniSystems, LLC, from August 17 to 21, 2020 due to the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Now in its fourth year, the entrepreneurial-focused summer program for young men ages 15-18, was designed this year to reconnect with the program’s graduates, also known as the ‘Gentlemen of EntrepreNow’, offering them more opportunities to develop their skills in business, professional development and personal branding. 

According to EZC Managing Director, Nadine T. Marchena Kean, “This year, we took the opportunity to follow up with the EntrepreNow graduates, and five young men stepped forward with high anticipation to engage in a successful and inspiring five-day line-up of activities. We sincerely thank the team at OmniSystems that worked tirelessly to put this year’s program together. As a quiet corporate citizen, OmniSystems has made a strong commitment to working with these Gentlemen beyond this year’s program. As they join with other business leaders that continue to step forward to assist the youth of the Virgin Islands, I say, ‘Thank you!”

Among the many EntrepreNow presenters who volunteered from the USVI community – and the diaspora abroad – were Samuel Joseph, Esq., chief public defender from the V.I. Office of the Territorial Public Defender; and Shane Benjamin, an EntrepreNow mentor and director of the VI Taxicab Commission, who spoke about the impact of gun violence in our communities. 

In an engaging question and answer format, Col. (Retired) Michael B. Black, former White House Communications Agency Chief Commander under the Obama/Biden Administration, responded to questions about his personal and professional experiences. Mr. Black also spoke about his life lessons and the importance of having a coach, mentor, sponsor and a vision for one’s life. Former USVI Lt. Governor Osbert Potter, now senior director/general manager of OmniSysterms Caribbean & Latin American Operations, also provided the young men his insights and advice.

Entrepreneur Angel Livas, CEO of DC Media Connection, talked about how one can monetize their passion through social media and the Internet. Chef Taj Siwatu, EntrepreNow mentor and founder/owner of Budda Sushi on St. Thomas, explained how one can pivot a business during challenging times and transform a negative situation into a positive one. Angela Dingle, president and chief executive officer of Ex Nihilo, discussed the importance of having self-confidence as a small-business owner while seeking business opportunities with the federal government and being a charismatic leader. This year’s program also included an open discussion about the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Arlene Smith Christopher of Youth Arise, Inc., explained what COVID-19 is and how it is contracted. Dr. Christopher also demonstrated methods for practicing good hand-hygiene and described other best preventive measures that can help individuals avoid contracting the coronavirus.

The Gentlemen of EntrepreNow also heard stories from Ian Tomilson, president of OmniSystems LLC; and David Ponjab, founder of Startup Space, about the challenges and rewards of being an entrepreneur. After the presentations, Mrs. Marchena Kean discussed next steps and encouraged the young men to continue their relationships with their mentors – and each other – while remembering to utilize the network they established and the resources available to them whenever they face challenges.  This year, the Gentlemen of EntrepreNow also had one item on their wish list, the desire to meet NBA star Tim Duncan.

To fulfill their desire, Mrs. Marchena Kean reached out to EntrepreNow mentor, Rashidi Clenance of ViVid Streaming, who arranged for the St. Croix native, philanthropist, and assistant coach/former NBA basketball star of the San Antonio Spurs, to virtually meet the young men during the finale of the 2020 EntrepreNow program. Mr. Duncan answered their questions and shared inspiring words of encouragement and advice. 

At the end of the summer program, each of the Gentlemen of EntrepreNow selected one of the week’s topics to deliver a presentation on what they would say to a younger person based on the lessons they learned that week on the topic.

Established in July 2016, EntrepreNow, the brainchild of the EZC, was created in partnership with the Office of the Territorial Public Defender of the USVI; the USVI Department of Human Services; and Youth Arise, Inc. The EZC is an entity of the Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority that is responsible for the revitalization of distressed neighborhoods that were once vibrant centers of economic activity in the Territory. 

For more information, contact Nadine T. Marchena Kean, EZC managing director, at 340-714-1700, ext. no. 1811; or send an email to info@usvieda.org.

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