Joshua Pierce knows the impact one opportunity or one mentor can have on a young person’s trajectory. As a Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars alum, he is living the “give first” mantra by building a nonprofit organization to educate underserved students about how to acquire economic success. Learn more about his journey and where he hopes to take the Diversity Org in the future.
A 2018 graduate of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and former participant in NYU’s Entrepreneurial Institute (Leslie eLab) LaunchPad program, Joshua is the founder of The Diversity Org. The Diversity Org provides underserved high school students career education, college preparedness training, professional mentoring, and corporate internship opportunities. To achieve this, it partners with Fortune 500 companies, educational institutions, and other national nonprofit organizations.
Early Academic Struggles
“I actually really struggled during most of high school. My GPA was really low – like below 2.0.” said Joshua. “But then I got an opportunity that changed everything: an entry-level position with BET, turned into a job as a production assistant, and ultimately a media manager role. By the time I was 18, I was traveling around the country and making good money with the company.”
Prompted by his mother’s and grandmother’s recognition of the long term impact college-level education can make for African American men in this country, Joshua enrolled in his local community college. Leveraging the professional experience and relationship-building lessons he gained at BET, Joshua committed to his studies, improving his academic performance, ultimately achieving a 3.5 GPA.
Seeds of Future Success Cultivated by the NYU LaunchPad
While at community college, Joshua had the original idea for the Diversity Org. In its earliest iteration, the organization hosted high school student assembly events on race relations. (At this time the Diversity Org operated under a for-profit, LLC business model.) By 2015-2016 when Joshua started at NYU, he had already grown the organization to serving schools in multiple north-east states, including, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
“I met several key mentors at NYU, including John Sexton, the former university president, and professor and film director Spike Lee,” said Joshua. “These and other individuals gave me great insight into how to grow the business – particularly in the areas of performance measurement and impact. John also introduced me to the Leslie eLab and its director Frank Rimalovski, who told me about its 9-week summer LaunchPad program.”
As a result of this experience, Joshua pivoted the Diversity Org’s business model to a more sustainable 501c3 entity, corporate partner and private foundation-driven revenue stream. With this new structure and strategy, Joshua secured partnerships with companies like Blackstone, Colgate, and Warner Media in less than one year.
“I learned so much in the NYU LaunchPad. It really was transformative and helped me both as an entrepreneur and as a professional,” said Joshua. “And because of that incredible experience, now I want to pay back what I got through its insights, and experiences, and values.”
Current Three-Step Strategy
With a refined strategy and track record of success, Joshua keeps the Diversity Org laser-focused on a three-step approach today. First, it serves mainly low-income student populations with the greatest need: only 16% of these students typically graduate college, and of those, the majority choose low income-earning potential majors.
Secondly, recognizing the vast need and his own limited capacity, Joshua has formed a strategic partnership with SEO: Seizing Every Opportunity. SEO has more than 50 years of experience helping underserved students gain admission to competitive colleges and universities. Though organizations like SEO have proven programs, Joshua understands that his young and diverse team at the Diversity Org is relatable and is able to influence more students to join programs like this.
Thirdly, after connecting with and educating students at an assembly and helping them get into a partner organization’s college pipeline program, the Diversity Org connects students to mentors, professional development workshops with employees from Fortune 500 companies and internships in its network of corporate partners.
Goals for 2020
Joshua is excited about the outlook for the Diversity Organization and its participants. He and his executive team – including Maisha Kabir, managing director, and Claire Laugeois, operations officer – have some big goals this next year. First and foremost, he says, is to maintain and improve the organization’s three KPI’s: class college enrollment, class attendance (which is the basis for corporate network workshop opportunities), and demographic diversity in program participation.
Another goal Joshua is focused on is deepening the organization’s impact by running 4-year corporation/school-based cohorts. This program would follow a student from their junior year of high school through their sophomore year of college. At that point, they would be guaranteed an internship opportunity at the sponsoring company. Broadly, Joshua is also (always) looking to grow his network of corporate partners, with a particular geographic focus in 2020 on the west coast.
Joshua’s Advice for Other Student Entrepreneurs
When asked what advice he might share with student entrepreneurs, Joshua offered an insightful response: “There are two types of student entrepreneurial experiences: minority and nonminority. And for each of these, I would offer different pieces of advice…”
- Minority student entrepreneurs have extra pressure on them, often feeling like representatives of their community and have no room for error. Joshua recommends that minority student entrepreneurs embrace their identity – but make a deliberate decision to shed this burden and instead simply focus on the opportunity. “Programs like LaunchPad,” said Joshua, “are too valuable to let pass by.”
- For all student entrepreneurs, Joshua’s advice is straightforward: It can be easy to shortcut and talk your way out of hard work, but don’t do it. If you do, you’re really only hurting yourself. Commit, give 120%, and focus on maximizing every opportunity you’re given to help grow your business.