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Each summer, the MMI Works team has the privilege of getting to know the next generation of Memphis creatives, journeying with them as they grow as artists and young professionals. For many of our interns, this work doesn’t stop when the summer ends. Throughout the school year, participants attend professional development sessions where they have the opportunity to strengthen connections they made with their peers over the summer. And, in the fall of 2022, we officially launched our brand-new MMI Works alumni program, so that young people can continue to lean on us for support, grow their ideas and networks, pursue their passions, and learn how to make their dreams a reality. 

The MMI Works team, including former Program Director Brittney Boyd Bullock, along with Program Coordinator Kab Browley and Program Manager Brandy Casséus, has big plans for the program—starting with our very first Pitch Fest competition. On December 16, 12 former MMI Works interns presented inspired and creative entrepreneurial pitches to a panel of judges for seed money. 

These pitches were not hypothetical; in many cases, students had already begun putting pieces into place long before competition. All fall, participants honed their dream project concepts during one-on-one meetings with MMI Works team members, plus virtual group meetings with the entire cohort. They also heard from guest speakers (including MMI’s In-Schools Program Director Lawrence Blackwell) who gave them insights into their own careers and experience. 

The culminating event on was an opportunity for alums not only to see each other in person, but also to see what their peers had been working on—including HBCU- and community activist-themed apparel modeled IRL, a virtual demonstration of a multi-sensory music learning tool, scripts, song samples, and many more incredible ideas. Each presenter came prepared with a market opportunity, cost analysis, and answers to questions posed by our panel of judges. 

While each student brought something new and compelling to the table, judges were given the difficult task of selecting three winners. The focus was not who had the best project (because they were all amazing) but on their presentation. After deliberating, the judges awarded the top prize of $5,000 to LaDarryl Winsley, $3,000 to Coby Bennett, and $2,000 to Aliyah Walker. All competitors received $2,000 from MMI, plus feedback on their pitches and resources to help them perfect their plans and seek funding. 

For those of us in the audience, Pitch Fest was another reminder that our young people are innovators, big thinkers, and dreamers. We were all inspired by their passion. MMI’s Browley put it best: “Hearing a young person talk about their dreams is beautiful.” 

Thank you to ArtUp and Cummins, Inc. for helping make this project a reality. Thank you also to April Freeman of Freeman Photography for filming the pitches and helping us capture this special event. Finally, thank you to our former Director of Youth Programs, Brittney Boyd Bullock, for her guidance and care in implementing not just this Pitch Fest, but kicking off and managing our fledgling alumni program. 

The MMI Works family is just that—a family. We are inspired by the young people who engage with us over the summer and amazed to watch all of the incredible things they’re doing to change the world. We are thrilled to connect them with opportunities like this to realize their dreams on their terms.