Ivy League Teen Making Business Entrepreneurship Accessible to Low-Income Students

Daily Point of Light # 6293 Jun 28, 2018
Ashton Lam(top-row, 7th from left) with fellow TakeOff founders and volunteers run an afternoon entrepreneurship bootcamp for high schoolers at the public library./Courtesy Ashton Lam

17-year-old Ashton Lam is a recent high school graduate who is heading off to Brown University in the fall. The Pleasanton, California, native has always been passionate about the business world, and participated in a business-oriented competitive organization in school.  

Wanting to provide underserved students with critical business and entrepreneurial tools that, according to Ashton, are just as important as a STEM or humanities studies, the teen started TakeOff in May 2017 with two friends. The organization promotes entrepreneurial equity by teaching students around the Bay Area a skillset they may not otherwise have access to. Giving the keys to business success to as many as 75 low-income students thus far, Ashton is making a difference by helping to level the playing field within his community, and is today’s Daily Point of Light award honoree. Points of Light spoke to Ashton to learn more about his work with TakeOff. 

This is a twist on traditional volunteering. What inspires you to give back in this way?  

Growing up in the Bay Area, I’ve seen lots of disparities. Silicon Valley is the tech hub of the world yet many lack access to business education. I wanted to close that disparity in my own community and expand access to information and services. 

Your organization is called TakeOff. Where did the name come from? 

(Laughs). This is really nerdy. We were inspired by a theory called the Model of Development that describes the stages of economic development. One of the stages is called “takeoff”. For developing countries, that’s when businesses start to expand – we were Inspired by that stage. We really wanted students to enter the world of business and hopefully become successful entrepreneurs.  

Describe your volunteer role with TakeOff. 

There are three co-founders; we divide the work pretty evenly. Day-to-day, I manage our social media, website presence, emails to partners and research possible venues for our boot camps and training. I also design the framework for activities and classes we want to produce, and do a lot of prep leading up to events.  

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?  

Throughout the activities and workshops we do, we distribute post assessments. We’ve been able to compare knowledge with pre-assessments, and we see a large increase amongst students who are genuinely interested and fascinated by the things we are saying. They’re inspired to do this as a career, but never got a taste of entrepreneurship before. It’s nice to see them grow both as students and increase their business skills. 

TakeOff's co-founder, Ashton Lam (center) hosting a mini-workshop on entrepreneurship to elementary schoolers at the Young Ivy Academy./Courtesy Ashton Lam

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?  

I’ve learned a lot about running an organization, event planning and management. But also just with working with students and giving them opportunities to learn more – I’ve been able to see the impact that education itself has. Education changes lives. 

Are there any programs TakeOff has coming up that you’re excited about? 

We have done “job shadows” with companies in our area in the past – we’d like to launch another one soon. The job shadows take a few hours, but they give students invaluable time on a company’s campus to really see what makes an organization tick. Students can ask employees they’re paired with about their work. 

Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?   

It’s really important to give back to the community, especially if you’re like me, growing up in Bay Area and you have lots of opportunities. It’s important for everyone to have equal opportunities. Giving underserved individuals those opportunities are a way for them to lead successful, stable, happy lives. 

What do you want people to learn from your story? 

I want them to learn that studying business education is just as important as studying STEM or humanities curriculum. Business entrepreneurship teaches lots about soft skills that will provide access to more jobs for students. Whether your community service is teaching a school subject or not, once you combine business education with service, it can lead to really great results.  

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Ashton Lam? Visit All For Good for local volunteer opportunities. 

Post written by Marlena Militana 

Brenda Solis