Male Mogul Initiative empowers young entrepreneurs in Englewood

The Male Mogul Initiative (MMI) in Englewood is investing in young men by helping them become entrepreneurs.

"I was at a career day and met a young man, honor roll student and basketball player, but he sold drugs to get the things that he wanted," said Walter Mendenhall. "I thought to myself, how many young men in this city have the gift, skills, and talent to be successful legal entrepreneurs but don’t have the exposure or the opportunity?"

That experience in 2016 led Mendenhall to start MMI. Since then, the program has reached 3,000 young people and produced over 200 jobs. The group recently expanded with a CO-LLAB, Chicago’s first small business incubator catered to youth and young adults.

"If I was a kid now, this is where I would be," said Keith Bass, an MMI mentor. "You can learn but you’re also making money. Where else do you need to go? This is the best of both worlds. You can learn something to better yourself and you can start your own brand and get paid for doing it."

The build-out of the CO-LLAB is happening in two phases. There’s a 3D printer for STEM initiatives and a screen press for shirts and pants to be produced on-site. Phase two will include space for video production and content creation. Access is free for kids aged 14-17 and costs $20 a month for those 18 and older.

"There are going to be times where they have to ask for help and collaborate with their peers," said mentor Jaurice Winston. "I think that’s going to prepare them for things they have outside of here. Depending on what their business is, maybe it’s real estate, retail, or anything. I just think being in this space specifically is going to prepare them for that."

Mendenhall, a former NFL player, transitioned to education before founding MMI. One of his founding principles is "idea to invoice," teaching how to take an idea, monetize it, and make money from it.

"He can teach me how to become a millionaire," said mentor Brashen Gilbert Sr. "I’m not athletic. I’m 5’6". I can’t rap. Those were the only ways. With business, I feel like I can really make it. I’m already a hustler, so I said I can just learn from him."

The mentors relate to the kids in the program because they all grew up in similar situations and have faced adversity in their lives.

"I actually understand some of the problems in school," said Gilbert Sr. "We always focus on the kids that are doing good and not the kids who are doing bad. We like to focus on those kids and show them you can still be successful if you’re not a straight A and B student. We find what you’re good at and help you maximize that skill."