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Student’s Youth Center Idea Lands Team a Spot in MassChallenge

June 28, 2017

Chris Michel, BCOS ’17 (Photo by Greg Abazorius)

Walk into any Boston-area youth center and you’re likely to see a corkboard plastered with flyers advertising upcoming dances, softball leagues, guitar lessons, and after-school activities.

But unless you know where to look for specific events, you might never be aware of what’s happening right down the street from where you live.

Chris Michel, BCOS ’17, wondered if the Ohrenberger Community Center (OCC) near his home in West Roxbury, Mass., was doing enough to promote itself and its programs. This question led him to join Accelerate, Wentworth’s innovation and entrepreneurship center, with four friends outside of Wentworth—Kyle Colon, De’Vante Mathurin, Paul Joseph, and Robert Simon. Together, the group created a mobile app that locates area community centers, lists events, and provides a social media option for youths to share ideas for future events.

Dubbed OCC Youth Unleashed—or OYU—the team secured $6,000 from an Accelerate PitchRound event last year, $10,000 in funding from a United Way competition at City Hall, and $3,500 at a second PitchRound.

Recently, the team was selected to take part in MassChallenge, a startup competition that accepts fewer than 10 percent of its applicants.

“It’s a crazy feeling,” says Michel.  OYU will compete against 127 other teams from around the world this summer.

Michel credits Accelerate with helping to sharpen the team’s focus and prepare them for a larger stage. After attending a patent workshop last year in Willson Hall, Michel spoke with Accelerate leadership and was told that he should pitch his idea at the next PitchRound event. Knowing the event was less than two weeks away, Michel stopped at Accelerate each day to work with mentors and boil his idea down into a succinct pitch. He also met with advisors from industry, who taught him about business models.

“Accelerate shaped our path,” he says.  “They opened a door that took us from forming a pitch to doing enough to get into MassChallenge.”

While Accelerate helped mold OYU into the team it is today, youth centers like the OCC shaped Michel as a person. He and his teammates spent nearly every day after school at the center as kids. Michel went on to work at OCC, and OYU has already hosted two successful events there: a basketball tournament and a summer bash that attracted more than 350 children.

The OYU app currently has 500 active users, and the team received a boost after its MassChallenge acceptance when Boston Mayor Martin Walsh tweeted about OYU.

OCC Youth Unleashed is currently focused on Boston-area youth centers, but the team hopes to soon include Boys and Girls Clubs and other youth centers, eventually building hubs throughout the country.

Michel graduates in August, but plans to stay active with Accelerate.

“The OCC environment really made me want to give back. The app is to get kids off the street,” Michel says. “I don’t know where I’d be without youth centers.”

More information can be found at the groups official website, OCCYouthUnleased, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

--Greg Abazorius

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