Getting More Entrepreneurs of Color in the Room with Jerelyn Rodriguez


In this fellow highlight series, Camelback Ventures shares snapshots of our entrepreneurs' work and perspectives.

"We started The Knowledge House because the kids in our neighborhood of the South Bronx were jobless, with 36% of 16-24 year olds disconnected from school and work." 2015 Fellow Jerelyn Rodriguez is the Co-Founder & CEO of The Knowledge House, a non-profit that is bringing web literacy and tech-entrepreneurship classes to students in New York. One of TKH's goals is to create a tech pipeline from low-income communities to not only create more diversity in the Silicon Valleys of the world but also provide sustainable career opportunities for young people. 

We recently attended the NationSwell Summit in New York (and wrote down our top 5 favorite moments) with Jerelyn and another Fellow from the 2015 cohort, Jessica Santana,* and we caught up with her to see how things are a year after the Fellowship.

New York is brimming with inspiring events and thoughtful opportunities. How do you feel like that has shaped you and your work over the last few years?
Opportunities like the NationSwell event, to me, are more than just networking. It's a chance to learn from like-minded individuals, and a chance to connect with people who have very different perspectives.

Events like this are also one of the main ways I'm able to keep connecting with other Camelback Fellows, like Marcus and Jessica (I see Jessica all the time, it's awesome). Camelback brought us into this sort of inner circle of the social impact space. People got to know us and our work, and now we get invited to these amazing events and we get to be a part of these conversations.
What are some of those events that stick out in your mind?
For me, I feel like a lot of it started with the Camelback Summits in our Fellowship, right? And then it became SXSW, then Forbes 30 Under 30, then NationSwell, and the list goes on. It's always exciting to network with new people.

But the best part, what I’m seeing more and more of, is seeing other people that look like me at those events. There’s a support system inherently in that which is inspiring. It's becoming integrated not just locally, but in these broader, national conversations. And Forbes, that's international. When I'm in these environments, I believe it helps our individual organizations as well as Camelback’s because it’s showing that we, as underrepresented entrepreneurs, are here and we’re ready.
Congrats again on the Forbes 30 Under 30 recognition! They recently had their Summit as well. What did you find most thought provoking about that event?
I made the Forbes list with two other Camelback orgs, and it was totally unexpected. I think it just adds another layer to the work that we’re doing. I got to go to the Forbes Israel Summit in the springtime. That gave me a whole new perspective, because when I’m talking to people in New York or San Francisco, they have an idea or understanding of what’s going on in the Bronx. They get what Jessica's doing with New York on Tech. But when I’m connecting with leaders from around the world that don’t really have that context. So what happens is I have this fascinating conversation with people who are excited to learn everything about my work, and vice versa. I got to learn about education work going on in different contexts, regions, things I’ve never been introduced to otherwise. You get to see how your work can be impactful in a new light. Being on the Forbes list has helped open a lot of doors for me, and now I can recommend other Camelback Fellows to the list and I love knowing that I can help share these opportunities.

One of the unexpected results from the Forbes list is that I got to write a piece for their Women@Forbes series. It gave me the chance to share insights on a different platform.

Camelback Note: You can read Jerelyn's piece online now, "Why I didn't #CallInBlack Last Week", and in our humble opinion, it's wonderful.
How has The Knowledge House evolved since your time with the Camelback Fellowship?
So much has happened in a year. For example, when I first started Camelback, I still wasn’t confident in the direction that our organization was heading. I was still exploring a hybrid model, as opposed to a strict non- or for-profit. A year later, we are so much clearer on who we are and what we want to do. Camelback really forced us to practice our pitch and hone in on what we wanted to do. For every external event, Camelback taught us exercises and skills to get our story down, and we had to practice networking.

Now, I do that stuff all the time! Now that The Knowledge House has a very clear theory of change, I’m able to engage with people and groups like New Schools Venture Fund, and I know exactly what I should be saying to help get their support. Camelback expanded our network and made me feel so much more comfortable, because now I can call on those people to be my champions when I’m exploring new areas and meeting new people.
What's one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Join the Camelback Fellowship, haha. But seriously. Camelback itself has grown so much since I joined, which I love. These days, me and other Fellows are being hit up by applicants with questions. And that’s great. Camelback is building its recognition and its brand in the same space as programs like Echoing Green. We need a Black and Brown Echoing Green. Entrepreneurs of color are literally drawn to Camelback because it’s such a need in the social enterprise space. To any social entrepreneur who's a POC or a woman: if you’re looking for a safe space, a team, and a support system that understands exactly what you’re trying to do and the problems you’re trying to solve, you won’t find something like what Camelback can do anywhere else.

Other than joining Camelback, my advice is simply: do not give up. I tell that to everyone. Even if I had not gotten into Camelback, I wouldn’t have given up. I’m still here. And that’s important. You can take advantage of Camelback or not, but if you give up, you won’t be successful. Look for those resources, put yourself out there, network, and keep fighting the good fight.

To learn more about Jerelyn, her venture, and her experience with the Camelback Fellowship, click here.

Update: Since this was posted, Jessica Santana (2015), Jacob Allen (2015), Nicole Cardoza (2016), were named in the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 in Education List.