Even as a child, Daquan Oliver ’14 knew his mom worked hard and made sacrifices so they could live in a community with a strong school system. “We moved to Mount Vernon, N.Y., and I attended New Rochelle High School,” he says. Oliver also knew many of his peers were not as fortunate as he was. “At age 14,” he adds, “I promised myself that when I became an adult, I would help those kids.”
But when he arrived at Babson, he realized he didn’t have to wait. Oliver is the founder and president of Recesspreneurs, a nonprofit that targets school children, mostly 11 to 12 years old, from low-income environments and guides them as they turn their dreams and ideas into action. Oliver says, “We teach students to use entrepreneurship as a tool, not only to empower themselves but also to improve their communities.”
In this manner, Oliver has gone a step beyond organizations that teach students how to start and run a business. Recesspreneurs provides the tools for success in life, whether or not the students actually start a company, and focuses on the mindset to effect the change necessary for improvement. The program builds the groundwork for such skills as critical thinking, time management, teamwork, respect, and self-confidence. Oliver’s long-term vision is to help not only at-risk youth, but all youth.
Oliver initially put Recesspreneurs into action at Barton Road apartments, a local, state-funded public housing program managed by the Wellesley Housing Authority. “When I first started early in my sophomore year,” says Oliver, “it was just me running Recesspreneurs.” Many volunteers since have joined, but he’s never added anyone he couldn’t fully trust, anyone who didn’t share his passion. “Building a reliable team is key to any project,” says Oliver.
Recesspreneurs didn’t require funding to start because the organization operated in conjunction with Babson’s own after-school program at the Barton Road site. Oliver adds that he also had vital, early guidance and support for his action plan from the Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship, the Lewis Institute, and then-President Len Schlesinger. “I never ever spent time on a business plan—I created an action plan. Here’s our vision, here’s our goal, these are the steps needed to get where we’re going,” Oliver says. As his project developed, it was awarded a small grant from the Blank Center’s Butler Venture Accelerator and $2,500 from the Clinton Global Initiative.
Recesspreneurs currently is establishing programs with Wellesley College, Brandeis University, and Boston College. The group recently has begun entrepreneurship lessons through Artists for Humanity, a Boston nonprofit that exposes inner-city students to the arts. “Each and every individual needs the entrepreneurial mindset to succeed in any field, not just business,” says Oliver. “This is what Babson believes, so my education has been a great fit.”
Oliver also is CEO of Jossle, a for-profit marketing firm he co-founded at Babson. The firm uses college students to strategically market brands that target the college culture. “When I graduate, Jossle will support my work with Recesspreneurs.”
When asked if he has time for anything else, Oliver admits, “I don’t sleep much. I’m always reminding myself that I need to achieve what’s most important to me.”—Sharman Andersen