It’s easy to feel hopeful about the future of Baltimore when you talk to any one of the Bet on Baltimore program teens about their social innovation projects.
This summer, the Grid, an innovation space located in the University of Maryland BioPark, hosted the social innovation track of Bet on Baltimore, a five-week summer internship that challenges Baltimore high school students to embrace design thinking and entrepreneurship to make a change within their community.
The program, administered by Dent Education and in its third year, challenged 80 Baltimore City students to develop entrepreneurial, design, and social innovation skills at six sites across the city, including the Grid.
Micky Wolf, a product manager at Dent, says working at the co-working innovation space has been wonderful exposure for the students.
“There’s some really great entrepreneurs here, some really interesting community members that students have interacted with” he says. He noted the proximity to Hollins Market, Lexington Market, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) Community Engagement Center. “They’ve been able to easily access different parts of the community, get feedback on their ideas, and do some serious empathy work around the problems they’re trying to solve.”
Grid faculty executive director Jenny Owens, ScD, MS, spoke to the students about her journey in starting a nonprofit and about the ideas fueling human-centered design. She says the Grid is a perfect location for socially conscious young people to launch projects to improve their communities. In fact, this fall the UMB Graduate School will launch a Masters of Science in Health and Social Innovation Program designed to challenge graduate students to explore and apply principles of innovation, entrepreneurship, and design thinking to solve complex health and social challenges. Classes will be held at the Grid.
Given a few years, the enthusiastic teen participants in Bet on Baltimore will be perfect candidates for the new MS program at the Graduate School. The three student teams that spent over a month tackling the intractable issues facing Baltimore include Lives4Change, which focused on addressing homelessness; 4BMore, which developed strategies to empower teens to speak out against gun violence; and Oasis Farmz, which focused on eliminating food deserts.
Elggy Granado, a rising sophomore at Cristo Rey High School in Southeast Baltimore and a member of the Oasis Farmz team, enjoyed the entire process, from strategizing sessions in the Grid classroom to venturing out into the community to talk to residents about their food needs.
“The best thing about the program is actually bringing these ideas to life,” he says. Oasis Farmz plans to alleviate food deserts by creating community gardens and greenhouses throughout the city. The team has been pitching its idea to investors, looking for empty lots to develop gardens, and purchasing seeds.
The students participating in the Bet on Baltimore program are ready to start solving the difficult challenges confronting Baltimore. Isaiah Turner, 18, a rising senior at Excel Academy, worked on the Lives4Change team, coming up with solutions to combat homelessness. “We shouldn’t have to worry about almost dying every day or about the man sleeping on the ground next to your house,’ he notes. “We’re the future of the city, and we’re going to do something about it.”