ConNEXTions, a Madison based non-profit that helps young adults learn financial literacy, will host two events this weekend to focus on entrepreneurship.
Tonight, Friday, September 28, ConNEXTions will hold an entrepreneurship panel featuring local entrepreneurs from different fields. They will be sharing stories about how they began their careers and how they were able to start their own business ventures. There will also be representatives from different organizations who have helped ConNEXTions be able to thrive.
The event runs from 6:00 – 8:30 pm at Badger Rock Neighborhood Center.
On Saturday, September 29, ConNEXTions is having a fundraising celebration in conjunction with Synergy Coworking. The event will be at 5201 Old Middleton Road on Saturday. That event will feature venders, a DJ, food, as well as a rummage sale and silent auction. The event will run from 11 am-5 pm.
Saran Ouk started ConNEXTions after emigrating from Cambodia as a child. As she got older, she began to notice that she was at a disadvantage socially in terms of getting ahead. Her peers all seemed to know someone who knew someone, or have a family member in business, or have some kind of “in” when it came time to get a job or develop a business idea. Ouk realized she didn’t have those connections and that what she needed was to build as much social capital as she could in order to get her feet off the ground.
After spending fifteen years working for Alliant Energy and Summit Credit Union, Ouk understood that financial literacy, along with lack of social connections, is one of the biggest barriers facing youth today, especially youth from underrepresented areas and youth of color. Financial literacy isn’t taught in schools the way it could be and mentorship programs aren’t as prevalent as they could be.
The event at Badger Rock is expected to be a platform to help jumpstart young women on the path to financial education, career planning and the chance to take career tours through Madison.
“We encourage young adults who may feel like they don’t fit in regular businesses,” Ouk told Madison365. “We bring in women and people of color to talk to young people who are young entrepreneurs. The goal is to just inspire the mentees to be whatever they want. We have five speakers and we’ve invited organizations to speak to the mentees.”
One of the speakers, for example, is Jenie Gao, a local Madison artist. Gao told Madison365 she will be speaking about her arts business, the importance of creativity and cultural expression, and what it’s like to start an arts business in a city that traditionally under-funds arts initiatives.
The program ConNEXTions has created pairs mentees with mentors from the community to teach them about building businesses or ventures. ConNEXTions goes to high schools, like James Madison, to talk about the program as well.
For Ouk, the two events are signs of progress in areas of great need for communities of color.
“This is important because people of color are underrepresented in math and engineering. I’ve worked in financial fields and I’ve always been the only person of color in board meetings and things of that nature,” Ouk said. “People say education is the foundation of things, but I think financial education and literacy is. You can be successful without college. It’s important to help empower women and people of color to see that there’s opportunities out there with mentors that look like them. There’s businesses that are looking for more of a diverse workforce.”
Ouk says that Madison as a city is struggling to keep young, up-and-coming entrepreneurs in Madison and that Madison is particularly losing young adults of color because of lack of opportunities.
“We help them see that there are opportunities here in Madison and we help connect them to employers. That’s why i call it ConNEXTions because you have to have these connections in order to build social capital.”
ConNEXTions works with mentees from ages 18-29 for the most part. Ouk says one mentee is still a senior in high school while others are college graduates who are struggling or people trying to figure out what their skill set is. ConNEXTions’ mentorship program starts in June and runs for six months. The requirement is that mentees and mentors meet once a month.
Both events are free to attend and ConNEXTions is looking for people to help support young adults trying to make social connections. Anyone interested in the events or in providing mentorship can contact Saran Ouk at firstname.lastname@example.org