Courtesy of Helen Knight

Disillusioned by political volatility, School of Management student Helen Knight SOM ’20 partnered with SOM’s entrepreneurship program to launch a start-up dedicated to electoral diversity.

Students like Knight often pursue entrepreneurial ventures to set themselves up for promising careers in post-grad life. Through support from the SOM’s Program on Entrepreneurship, students can access professional guidance to advise their projects. The program’s assistant director Jen McFadden has worked with Knight to grow her concept, Representation 2.0. Now, the SOM student and her team are workshopping with potential electoral candidates to prepare minority college students for political campaigns. The workshops explain how candidates enter elections, how to secure funding and how to approach the idea of running for office.

“We are a nonprofit looking to equip underrepresented undergraduates with the tools to run for office and lead their communities,” Knight said. “There’s obviously a lot of great activity going on in what I would call the electoral equity space. What we’re doing that adds to that activity is providing early intervention that solves three problems that studies show stop people from underrepresented backgrounds from running for office.”

Knight explained that she and her team — which consists of SOM students and undergraduates from Yale, Southern Connecticut State University and Quinnipiac University — aim to combat three deficiencies: confidence, information and support. By addressing what it costs, where to start and who can help run a campaign through a series of workshops, Representation 2.0 hopes to empower a more diverse array of electoral candidates.

The entrepreneurship program’s flagship course, dubbed “the founder’s practicum,” gave Knight professional guidance in developing her project. The founder’s practicum — a “highly selective” course taught by McFadden, Knight said — instructs entrepreneurial-minded SOM students who plan on starting organizations they intend to work on after graduation. McFadden added that the program admits students whose projects are beyond the idea phase, meaning that they walk in having completed the preliminary research on their idea and its market. SOM students are eligible to take the course for three semesters. Faculty mentors drive students to actively workshop their ideas for academic credit, but they do not provide participants with any funding. Instead, the program refers students to a variety of SOM summer grants or Tsai CITY’s Accelerator Program to fund initiatives.

“Helen is doing what she’s doing, we’re just giving her the time and space to do it,” McFadden said. “It’s really the entrepreneurs who are doing the hard work every day.”

Knight has taken the class twice now and intends to enroll for a third time next semester. So far, Representation 2.0 has held one workshop and intends to have two more in the coming weeks. One will be in New York as part of an effort to expand the initiative.

Rachel Chang ’22, who participated in the first workshop, said that the participants were diverse and included students from other New Haven universities. She said that Representation 2.0 was valuable and empowering. Chang added that the program helped her understand that there is no one set path to getting involved in government and that she feels “far more confident” in her ability to make a difference.

The SOM Program on Entrepreneurship began in 2014.

John Besche | john.besche@yale.edu