Career Institute students recognized for entrepreneurial spirit


The Dallas ISD Career and Technical Education department, Hilltop Holdings and the Dallas Education Foundation recognized the winners of a monthslong entrepreneurship contest that took place at Dallas ISD Career Institutes.

The first, second and third place winners at each of the three Career Institutes received awards and prizes for developing their own business idea, which involved creating an original product or service, coming up with a sound plan for launching the project and producing a Shark Tank-style video presentation for the judges.

Hilltop Holdings, a Dallas-based financial services holding company, contacted the Dallas Education Foundation (DEF), the district’s direct nonprofit philanthropic partner, seeking opportunities to make a financial contribution and serve Dallas ISD schools. The offer led DEF Executive Director Mita Havlick to work with Oswaldo Alvarenga, Dallas ISD deputy chief of Strategic Initiatives, to enhance the experience of students in the entrepreneurship program at the Career Institutes.

“Many of the students learned that entrepreneurship may be an option for them, which helps them see their future more clearly than they did before,” Havlick said. “Our goal is to inspire community investment to accelerate student success. This investment created opportunities in the classroom, and everything the students learned through this project will truly be valuable in the future.”

Kaitlyn Howell Ledford, corporate events and community relations manager at Hilltop Holdings, was among the representatives who spearheaded the company’s effort. Besides making a monetary contribution to DEF, Hilltop Holdings representatives offered the students mentorship throughout their project and judged the competition.

“We coordinated with Career and Technical Education to provide virtual mentoring for about two months,” Howell Ledford said. “We had about 40 employees from Hilltop Holdings who logged into Zoom calls with students every week and helped with the presentation preparation, discussed ideas and provided feedback.”

Among the projects the students pitched were portable ceilings to protect construction workers, roofers and plumbers from the rain or the sun; floor panels that generate electricity from movement to help save energy; and eco-friendly sheets that help people rest better with vibrations. In the videos, the students had to specify their project’s cost structure, detail their projected expenses, and present their qualifications as managers.

“At first, the students were not sure if they wanted to do this, but they got some practice and some confidence and started working on their content and their ideas,” Alvarenga said. “If you hear them, they’re talking about their financial statements, their startup cost, their labor cost, how much they’re planning to invest. This is a great opportunity at the Career Institutes, and we’re thankful to DEF and Hilltop Holdings for making it happen.”


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