Ally, Big Sean and HBCUs address economic mobility with Moguls in the Making

The three-day pitch competition is preparing HBCU students to become future entrepreneurs and members of the business community.

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Elizabeth City State University students were one of 10 teams participating in the first Moguls in the Making competition in Detroit. Photo courtesy of Ally Financial

Ally Financial found itself with a unique opportunity to diversify its talent pipeline and increase economic mobility opportunities for students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities. 

The Detroit-based digital financial services company teamed up with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) and the Sean Anderson Foundation — founded by Detroit rapper Big Sean — to launch a new entrepreneurship competition called Moguls in the Making.

Fifty students representing TMCF member-schools, including teams from North Carolina A&T State University and Elizabeth City State University, traveled to the Motor City in March to participate in the program’s inaugural session. For three days, students worked in five-member teams to develop business plans that included solutions to economic issues facing various industries in Detroit. Then, the teams pitched their ideas to Big Sean and a panel of judges.

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Ally Chief Marketing Officer Andrea Brimmer (left) and Sean “Big Sean” Anderson watch the pitches of Moguls in the Making student participants on March 31, 2019 in Detroit. Photo courtesy of Ally Financial

Why this matters: A 2014 Harvard study ranked Charlotte last out of 50 metro areas when it comes to escaping poverty. The study concluded that children born in poverty in these areas have less chance of getting out of it as they get older. Charlotte is home to Ally’s corporate center. Ally was doubly interested in this data as its home base sat at No. 46 on the list.

Natalie Brown, director of corporate citizenship at Ally, said Moguls in the Making is an opportunity to move the needle on economic mobility by providing an avenue for students who otherwise may not have a way to connect to Ally.

“We’re building those skill sets that they can take into corporate America or they can take out on their own, and that’s exciting for me,” said Brown, a Greensboro native and N.C. A&T grad.

Nalani Kelley Marsh, a graduating senior from Florida A&M University, was part of the competition’s winning team. The FAMU group presented CityCFO, an artificial intelligence system that small businesses could use to “upload documents and files regarding payroll, inventory, stock levels and more to generate solutions or best practices to grow their business,” according to The Famuan.

Each team member received a $5,000 scholarship, an Apple laptop and an internship at Ally Financial. Marsh is interning this fall in Charlotte.

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Nalani Kelley Marsh (fourth from right) along with her team members from Florida A&M University who took home first place in the Moguls in the Making competition. Also pictured, from left, George Spencer, executive vice president of business development, innovation and entrepreneurship at the TMCF; Carlos Rodriguez, team mentor from Ally Financial; Andrea Brimmer, chief marketing officer at Ally Financial; and Sean “Big Sean” Anderson. Photo courtesy of Ally Financial

She said the Moguls in the Making program and Ally internship “has really changed everything.” Marsh, who is studying business administration and finance, initially had broad goals of “becoming a mogul in Miami” but hadn’t filled in any other details.

“I was interning in Miami this summer and said, ‘How can I use this to create opportunity?’” she recalled when she realized Miami wouldn’t be a good fit. “Getting here to Ally dramatically shifted my opinion or plans after school. I do see myself coming back. I want to be full time.”

Applications for the next Moguls in the Making cohort are available through Nov. 10. The program has expanded to include students attending any HBCU or Predominantly Black Institution (PBI).

For more information, visit tmcf.org.


Katrina Louis is managing editor of qcitymetro.com who can always find something to do in Charlotte. She’s an offline hustler (and has the shirt to prove it) but when online, find her on Instagram and Twitter.

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