With less than a month to go before UML’s 2021 Convocation, keynote speaker Nana Younge ’18 hadn’t found much time to think about what she wanted to say to the thousands of new River Hawks.
“I’m jotting things down here and there, but it’s been pretty busy,” says Younge, whose nonprofit organization Get Girls Going — which she founded as a Manning School of Business student in 2016 — was wrapping up its first four-week summer entrepreneurship camp, held virtually for 15 Black high school girls from the Boston area.
Younge started the organization along with fellow UML alumnae Sashoy Bailey ’16 and Matilda Matovu ’16 as a way to inspire Black teenage girls to become entrepreneurs.
“Data show that Black women are among the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the country, but the success rate is not matching that,” says Younge, a native of Ghana whose family moved to Worcester, Massachusetts, when she was in the second grade. “We’re thinking about all those things that prevent Black women from succeeding and we’re saying, ‘Let’s teach high school girls all the skills and principles and things they need to know so that when they grow up into women, they have what they need to create successful businesses.’”
Originally a plastics engineering major, Younge realized during a co-op at a medical device company that there weren’t many people in meetings who looked like her. She also realized that she could still be involved in the industry and help people from the operations side, so she switched her major to business with a concentration in entrepreneurship.
Around that time, she came up with the idea for Get Girls Going. At the advice of Holly Lalos, director of UML’s Rist DifferenceMaker Institute, Younge enrolled in the EforAll Lowell business accelerator summer program and was selected as a finalist in its pitch competition. She continued developing Get Girls Going through UML’s DifferenceMaker entrepreneurship program, winning the Creative Venture Competition.
“That was a confidence-booster, but it also taught me a lot about the things I needed to work on. The judges said to go out there and do it, to put things in motion to learn,” says Younge, who used the $5,000 prize, along with a Chancellor’s 2020 Grant for $1,000, to launch a Get Girls Going pilot program at UML for at-risk high school students from Lowell.
As executive director, Younge is not only responsible for building a nonprofit organization from the ground up, but for developing and teaching the curriculum, too.
“The things I learned at UMass Lowell are things that I use every day. All the principles, whether it was the lean startup idea or design thinking, are things that I have taken and applied while teaching students,” she says.
One faculty member who had a lasting impact on Younge was Assoc. Teaching Prof. Ashwin Mehta, director of the Global Entrepreneurship Exchange (GE2) program.
“A lot of the way that I think about teaching entrepreneurship to my girls, in terms of how to make it exciting for them, comes from the way he teaches,” says Younge, who traveled to India for a GE2 winter intersession program her junior year.
“That experience really changed my life,” she says. “It took me out of what I knew and gave me a global citizen lens. That’s how I address issues today: thinking about the bigger picture.”
Building a nonprofit has been challenging, but Younge, who earned a master’s degree in education from Merrimack College in 2021, says it’s all worth it.
“Unless someone throws a million dollars into your lap and says, ‘Here, quit your job, quit school, quit focusing on other things and dedicate your time to this idea,’ it’s really hard to build this idea from the ground up,” she says. “But I’m doing it for the girls I’m serving; they keep me pushing.
“This is my purpose and it’s making me feel happy every day. I wake up every morning, excited to go to work, excited to create and develop and teach and work with the girls. That sense of purpose makes me feel really good.”