By Bobbin Wages Eastwood
After earning an associate degree in accounting, Jessica Washington put off getting her bachelor’s degree to raise her four children and run a screen printing and embroidery business.
Now that her children are pursuing their own careers, Washington will finally earn her B.B.A. in entrepreneurship from the J. Mack Robinson College of Business.
A self-described lifelong entrepreneur, she’s already bringing the knowledge she gained at Georgia State to her work at the Atlanta-based nonprofit Usher’s New Look (UNL), a youth leadership academy founded by singer, songwriter and actor Usher Raymond IV.
Since 2017, Washington has been the financial literacy director at UNL, building the organization’s fiscal education program from the ground up and helping to educate thousands of students.
Now she’s applying the entrepreneurial lessons she learned at Georgia State to plans for a youth business accelerator that will launch as part of UNL next fall.
“These kids are doing a number of things like selling cupcakes, braiding hair, selling ripped jeans, babysitting or walking dogs,” Washington said. “The idea is to turn casual side hustles into youth-run businesses.”
At Robinson, Washington took electives like personal financial planning which reinforced her confidence in the relevance of the lessons she designed for UNL.
She said the program also helped her develop valuable professional connections. This past summer, she completed an internship at the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurship, where she assisted entrepreneurs in launching products like Brown Toy Box, a collection of education kits intended to expose children from historically excluded populations to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) education.
“I didn’t spend my internship just sitting at the welcome desk,” Washington said. “I filled a different need every day. Seeing how the Russell Center operates and how entrepreneurs work on the back end was a phenomenal experience.”
Washington formed meaningful relationships with her classmates as well. She and her peers worked on several app prototypes over multiple semesters, including one that connects talent with small businesses. Another helps users find food trucks that have changed locations without notice. The platform also connects food trucks to industrial parks and warehouses with large numbers of employees who need dining options.
“Whether a class covered business law, business model validation or scaling a new venture, we kept developing the same products,” Washington said. “We really think we’ve got something.”
Washington also has other exciting projects in the pipeline. She will present “Financial Literacy Beyond the Classroom” at the SXSW [South by Southwest] EDU Conference & Festival in March 2022.
“I’ll continue to educate and be an entrepreneur for the rest of my life,” Washington said.
Top photo by Meg Buscema