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How Justin Dent Started A Multimillion Dollar Non-Profit While In College

At 16 years old Justin secured a full time internship on Capitol Hill. By 19, he was running a quickly growing student organization designed to bring financial literacy programs to students on campus. This informal program would soon land him support from Bernie Marcus, one of the founder’s of Home Depot, and a quarter of a million dollar commitment to help launch a non-profit called GenFKD (Generation Financial Knowledge and Development, one of the meanings of that acronym).

In this episode we dive into Justin’s background, and what positioned him to launch this type of non-profit early in his college career. We learn how he was able to build and nurture a highly impactful support system to help him realize his vision of bridging the gap between a college education and the skills that are necessary to succeed in the real world.

“Just because you don’t know how to do something, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. People can help you. You can’t do anything substantive alone.” Justin attributes his growth from one school to a network of 34 major universities to the deep relationships he’s been able to cultivate with the people, communities, and organizations that believed in his vision.

Today, GenFKD runs financial, soft and technical skills development programs all over the country, including for profit college courses in Entrepreneurship. They have raised $7 million to date, and have $4 million more committed.

Show Notes

0:20 Live from Detroit MI with the Executive Director of GenFKD Justin Dent, where Vadim is Entrepreneur in Residence

1:00 Justin founded GenFKD 5 years ago while a sophomore in college and they have raised $7 Million to date and have $4 million committed

1:40 Vadim: How did you decide to build a nonprofit at that age?

1:50 Justin was a student leader and saw that the college wasn’t providing resources for students as far as getting prepared for life after college

2:15 Started with financial literacy, more specifically to provide access to information for people of color like himself. Saw a lot of demand for programs like this.

2:40 Was fortunate to meet someone with a lot of capital who believed in the idea even more so than he knew how to at 19 years old.

3:06 Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus gave the initial donation

3:20 Vadim: Did you start the nonprofit before you met Bernie, your donor, or after?

3:30 They got the commitment before they started the non profit

3:33 Before, they were a network of students who were informally running student organizations/club. Would just apply to student government associations for money initially.

4:00 Vadim: What was your very first step when you got this idea?

4:19 First step was to validate the problem. Knew from his work at black student union that there was a need

4:40 Talked to as many students at University of Maryland as he could. He was Director of Student groups and had access to 826 student orgs

5:12 The leaders of these groups knew what those students were going through. There are people in any community who hold knowledge about the people in the community, so he went to them instead of surveying every student

5:50 Vadim: How long did you validate before creating a solution

6:01 Probably about 2 days

6:07 There was no risk and he didn’t have to spend any capital

6:20 As a student leader, he could immediately book a room and hold an event on financial literacy and see how many people would show up to test demand

6:50 Vadim: Were you also a student leader in high school?

7:10 Justin was an editor in chief of the HS newspaper and involved in Junior Statesmen of America

8:00 Vadim was also in JSA. We find out that he had his first kiss with a girl from JSA.

9:35 In HS in his sophomore year he left the school to go work on Capitol Hill

9:45 He was an intern for a congressman from Arkansas, Mike Ross. Was able to do this because his dad lived in DC

10:40 Vadim: How did you balance HS with a year round job?

10:48 This shows difference between public and private schools. The first 2 years he spent in NJ in a private school, were so advanced compared to other public schools that he only needed to take half of a day’s schedule

11:15 Every other day he would go to classes, and work every other day

11:50 Goes to show it’s never too early to show initiative. You can do it in high school

12:00 Vadim: Did you start your college student group just on your campus?

12:20 Started only on his campus but then got some friends in other schools into it. Realized it would work better as a network of schools.

12:47 Vadim: What did the solution look like at this point?

12:50 Didn’t know yet it would be a valuable use of his time so didn’t have a solution yet.

13:20 Thought he would graduate and work in agricultural and economic development in West Africa. So it was a priority but not number 1.

13:34 Vadim: When did it become a priority?

13:37 He met Bernie Marcus of Home Depot through an internship in college at a small consulting firm where Bernie was a client

14:14 The consulting firm wanted him to meet Bernie and they knew he would be interested with what Justin was working on

14:41 At that time he was grappling with what he was doing with his project. His colleague who introduced him knew Bernie was likely to give him money. That relationship has lasted to this day

15:26 This goes to show you have to get out there and meet people

15:46 Every opportunity that has been a key point of evolution in the org came out of just talking to people and not really expecting anything specific, and being genuine

16:30 Justin met Vadim through a course they put on at SUNY Purchase. He met the woman who helped organize this class randomly at a dinner and they were just talking about challenges they have. And they happened to align perfectly.

17:40 Vadim: When you’re building a business or nonprofit clearly money is important. At what point did he write the check?

18:00 A few weeks after I met him

18:38 Vadim: How did you know what to do with that money?

18:40 Was fortunate to have support around him. Consulting firm he interned for through which he met Bernie had a comptroller who knew how to set up a nonprofit bank account.

19:10 Because Bernie has a foundation, they have a knowledge sharing function where they could easily file paperwork and establish themselves

20:01 Without this ecosystem/network of support he wouldn’t be able to be here. Have to find the people to support you. Especially on legal and financial things.

20:30 Justin sees GenFKD as the kind of org that helps people get started like this


20:40 “Just because you don’t know how to do something, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. People can help you. You can’t do anything substantive alone.”

21:10 Something Justin learned is that an ask can be very impactful, and you should never be afraid to ask a new person for something

21:25 Make sure your ask is clear/direct and make sure the person you’re asking knows why they’re the person you’re asking instead of someone else

21:42 Vadim: Give us a quick overview of what you’ve been able to accomplish in the last 5 years with this organization

21:51 5 years ago they were figuring out how to do what they do in an authentic way. Need to develop and measure programs to improve people’s financial outcomes.

22:13 Now went from 1 school to 34 schools, serve 18,000 people every semester

23:52 Vadim: Let’s tell everyone why we’re in Detroit this weekend

24:00 Here for GenFKD’s Fellow retreat, and have them in the audience here

25:12 Also hosted the Social Impact Summit in Detroit to have a conversation about the role of entrepreneurship in the redevelopment of Detroit

26:00 Question from the audience – How did you deal with challenges when running GenFKD

26:30 Justin distances himself from the problem and meditates. He does not want to be reactionary and act from a place of chaos

27:00 Roselyn asked what’s next from GenFKD?

27:22 They have seen that their network is powerful enough to create communities but also changed communities. Want to see how to create the most impact

28:42 Wants to build ecosystems in the communities where their schools are to help people create businesses and work in the state

29:10 In the long term providing critical function to communities to improve the pathway from education to the workforce

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