ASU student on the importance of Black generosity

August 24, 2023

Editor's note: This article is part of the ASU Foundation's ongoing work to celebrate Black philanthropy at ASU.

Jason Amoako-Agyei started his college career as a nursing student but soon realized that the bedside wasn't the right place for him. He remained passionate about the field in which much of his family works but decided that he was more inclined to work behind the scenes. Today, Amoako-Agyei is a rising senior in Arizona State University's College of Health Solutions, where he studies health care administration and policy. Portrait of ASU student Jason Amoako-Agyei. Jason Amoako-Agyei is on a mission to bring ASU 's Black communities together. Photo courtesy Jason Amoako-Agyei Download Full Image

When Amoako-Agyei isn't in class, he spends much of his time connecting Black communities at ASU. He currently serves as external vice president of ASU's Black African Coalition, which works to unify students of African descent to support the success of Black community members, increase the visibility of Black life and be an advocate for the interests of Black students and organizations.

Here, Amoako-Agyei discusses ASU's Black communities, his leadership experience, the importance of philanthropy and more.

Question: How did you get started in this community?

Answer: I started in my junior year, so quite late, but that was mostly because of the impact of COVID. I was exposed to more of Black ASU around my junior year, which showed me the importance of highlighting Black ASU and the Black experience at ASU. 

At a school this big, it's difficult to find your footing, to find where you belong if you don't know where to look. I was new to the school. I didn't know if I fit in. I still doubted whether I should have gone to a historically Black college or university (HBCU) to be in a place where I felt more comfortable. But after I found this space, although it was smaller, it felt like home. And because it was small, you could get to know everyone very well.

You're able to host events where everyone can feel included, to create a family-like environment. Our goal is to create the feeling of a mini HBCU where we can feel that we belong, that we have a tradition, that we have values and that we have things that you'll find at universities established in the cultural context.

Q: How did you get involved with the Black African Coalition?

A: I actually started in the Black African Coalition as part of the African Student Association this past school year. I was the vice president of community engagement and recruiting for the African Student Association. It was our first year back on campus after the pandemic. And so, in working with the African Student Association, I became much more involved on campus in the Black community. 

We were registered as part of the Black African Coalition, so we worked closely with many Black leaders on campus and hosted many events highlighting the diaspora. Since then, I've become more involved and joined the board directly as the external vice president. 

Q: What do you do as external vice president?

A: As external vice president, my responsibilities include being in contact with organizations and entities outside of just the Black African Coalition. We focus on highlighting the existence of students of any minority or any marginalized group here on campus. And then I also work with alumni organizations that get involved with, for example, bringing speakers to campus. And then I also work on anything involving philanthropy. 

Q: What does philanthropy mean to you?

A: Philanthropy is going to be my main focus for this next school year, and I've thought about this in depth. Everyone wants to be involved in philanthropy, but they don't know how they can get involved. Philanthropy is just providing anyone who has a dream the access, resources and opportunities to achieve that dream.

Your time, money, contacts — anything you can give someone to help them achieve a dream — is a form of philanthropy. When looking at Black philanthropy on campus, donations are incredible, and donors are highly valued in our organization. But so are people who can provide their time and come to speak to students about career and life advice. As college students, we're in the most transformative years of our lives, and it's really important that we have guidance and mentors to ensure we're going in the right direction. 

Q: Have you benefited from philanthropy?

A: I'm on the New American University Scholarship, so my tuition is covered right now. And to be honest, that's really provided me the opportunity to get more involved on campus. It's allowed me to focus on matters that aren't necessarily financial, which has been a game changer.

I don't know how my college career would have been different if I had to focus on my tuition while also trying to be an involved student. So having my tuition covered and not having to focus on that has truly been a blessing. 

Q: What does mentorship mean to you?

A: I'm currently a mentee in the YP Connect mentorship program. It's part of the Urban League of Young Professionals, and this is a program I believe every single Black student at ASU should apply to. 

In working with the Urban League of Young Professionals, I grew my competence immensely and learned everything I needed to know about starting my career in corporate America. I practiced my interviews. I learned financial management. I learned how to create a LinkedIn profile — I didn't have a LinkedIn profile before the Urban League. I was able to land my first internship. I was able to connect with incredible people. 

And that's going to be a lasting partnership. I was in a cohort of only five other students, and there were way more mentors available than there were mentees. If more students applied to be in this program, I can't even imagine how much of an impact they would have. They'd be incredible.

Q: What would you tell a student — especially a Black student first coming to ASU?

A: I would let them know that they are not alone. It can be very easy to get lost at such a big school. But it's a beautiful school because it's so big. There are so many opportunities everywhere you look. Don't be afraid to branch out. This is your time to shine. And as long as you know who you are and that there are people here to support you, you'll do just fine.

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ASU partners with Chandler on new model of startup incubator open to all

New ASU workspace, entrepreneurial program open to the community in Chandler.
August 24, 2023

Chandler Endeavor Venture Innovation Incubator to provide advice, space, funding to entrepreneurs

Arizona State University has a new entrepreneurship resource in Chandler that is perfectly aligned with the university’s charter — open to anybody in the community.

A ribbon-cutting event on Wednesday celebrated the opening of the E+I@ACIC coworking space at the ASU Chandler Innovation Center and the start of the Chandler Endeavor Venture Innovation Incubator, which will be based in the building.

The incubator program, a partnership between ASU’s J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute and the city of Chandler, is a unique model.

Typically, incubators require entrepreneurs to apply, and they may or may not be selected to join a cohort of other startups.

The Chandler Endeavor Venture Innovation Incubator invites any entrepreneur in the community to join simply by registering. Then, they can collaborate with peers and get expert advice, according to Tracey Dodenhoff, the new vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation at ASU.

“It’s an integration of community and ASU assets,” she said of the coworking space and the incubator.

“No one will be turned away.”

Dodenhoff, who has experience in technology entrepreneurship, said that starting a business is not a linear process.

“You learn and you make mistakes. You learn from that and you try again and expand your network and you share with other people,” she said.

“That’s what this is all about. It’s that collective force multiplier effect. It could be somebody trying to come up with a new pizza formula or it could be somebody trying to solve a genetically driven disease.”

U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton told the crowd that entrepreneurs are needed to innovative solutions to the big challenges facing the local community and the country.

“We need the people who are going to use this facility to help prepare ourselves for the issues of tomorrow,” he said at the ribbon cutting, which was organized by the Chandler Chamber of Commerce.

“The people coming into this space have the power to make a real difference to our economy, our way of life and our futures.”

A new kind of incubator

Kristin Slice, director of community entrepreneurship for the Edson Institute, said she’s gotten a lot of feedback from founders about typical incubator programs, many of which require homework, provide irrelevant information or demand endless rounds of pitches.

The Chandler Endeavor Venture Innovation Incubator will trust founders to do what’s right for their startup, she said.

“We’re going give you the tools every month to learn about innovation, the evidence-proven tools that many people have used to help build innovative, high-growth ventures in the past,” she said

“Then we're going to surround you with the resources that you need to master those skills — peers, mentors, resources in the community. You'll come to a monthly forum and visit us online and talk about, ‘How do these actually apply to my business?’”

Startup founders who register with Chandler Endeavor will be grouped into cohorts for collaboration and have a six-month timeline to help them stay on track.

The monthly forums, which will feature advice from successful entrepreneurs, are open to everybody. September’s event will teach participants how to take inventory of their ventures to understand next steps. Other forums will cover how to find customers and how to be aware of environmental issues.

The institute also is creating online modules to teach entrepreneurship concepts.

“We have launched a new custom portal that allows you to access these resources and to connect with each other on demand,” Slice said.

Besides the coworking space in the ASU Chandler Innovation Center, participants can get access to the building’s fabrication studio to create a prototype.

At the end of the six months, participants can join a pitch competition for funding.

Slice said she doesn’t know of another incubator program like Chandler Endeavor, which is funded with $275,000 from the city of Chandler.

“We are setting the standard for what it might look like out here,” she said.

“Standard incubators serve 10 to 15 people a year. I stood in front of the city council two months ago and told them we would serve over a thousand.”

Making connections

E+I@ACIC is one of five coworking spaces managed by the Edson Institute. The others are 850PBC and Fusion on First, both in downtown Phoenix, 1951@Skysong in Scottsdale and The Studios @ Mesa City Center in downtown Mesa. In addition, the Phoenix Forge makerspace in downtown Phoenix, in partnership with GateWay Community College, is open to the public.

ASU student Hope Anderson was one of the entrepreneurs chosen to cut the ribbon at the Chandler coworking space on Wednesday.

“I came to a networking event here and I got some good connections,” said Anderson, who is seeking a Master of Science degree in innovation and venture development, a transdisciplinary program that’s a partnership between the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, the W. P. Carey School of Business and the Design School in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

Her venture is Teaching Solved, an educational technology company focused on supporting teachers of world languages.

“Rather than being a language-learning app like Duolingo or Babbel, which is aimed directly at the student user, I’m aiming at the teachers because I want to support teachers in making their classes more effective for the students,” said Anderson, who also is a clinical assistant professor of Spanish at ASU.

She’s been to several events at different entrepreneurship ASU spaces.

“I know some of my classmates don’t even have internet at home, so they take advantage of on-campus resources or coworking spaces to access hardware, software or just internet connection,” she said.

“Whenever I visit these spaces, I see people working and it’s great because a lot of small businesses don’t have an office, so if they need to have meetings or need an area to cut out distractions, it’s so helpful.”

The first monthly forum of the Chandler Endeavor Venture Innovation Incubator will be 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6, at the ASU Chandler Innovation Center, 249 E. Chicago St., Chandler.

Top image: A new coworking space that is available to the community has opened at the ASU Chandler Innovation Center. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News