By Mary Lee

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — Oakland-based youth organization The Hidden Genius Project is expanding its mentorship program. The organization mentors and trains Black male youth in technology creation, entrepreneurship, and leadership. The program has served more than 7,600 students with more than 442,400 hours of direct training. Members have won prestigious national awards. The Hidden Genius Project is now celebrating something new.

The Hidden Genius Project just launched a new program called the Alumni Venture Seed Fund. It’s a continuation of their high school mentoring program for their college students.

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The $150,000 program was designed and created to support the advancement of young entrepreneurs through the five phases of startup development. The five-month program supports their student alumni with resources, networks and capital needed to support their entrepreneurial ambitions.

Perry Irving participated in The Hidden Genius Project in high school. He is now part of the Alumni Venture Seed Fund. Irving is majoring in computer science at San Francisco State University. Through the Alumni Venture Seed Fund, Irving built a mobile app called Creation Skateboard to help skaters design and create their own customizable skateboard using a mobile device.

“The Hidden Genius Project has changed my perspective on life,” said Irving. “Being a skater from Oakland, just hanging out with my friends, really not grasping that technology aspect of things and entrepreneurship and leadership. When I joined The Hidden Genius Project freshman year in high school, they really pushed that idea and terminology onto me to develop a business. Like, what’s a problem that’s going on in your community? And just discussing things that I didn’t really understand like how African-Americans are underrepresented in these tech firms and tech companies and really just pushing me to motivate my community and to be a leader.”

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Irving talked about how grateful he is to have this extra support.

“I would say it’s a blessing,” said Irving. “That support is always there. There’s always people looking out for me, making sure that I’m in the right direction.”

The Hidden Genius Project Communications Manager Denzel Russell said the program’s participants have taken what they’ve learned in the program and raised it to remarkable levels.

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“I’m really blown away by the passion and drive our geniuses have,” said Russell. “I’ve known them for a while now, but they continue to blow me away in terms of their knack and ability to learn at such a fast pace, but also instantly applying all the knowledge they’re given. There’s advice about improving your pitch decks. They have that flipped and ready to go the next day and practice their pitches. It’s really incredible to see them, the strength they’ve cultivated in our immersion program over the years and refine that and come into our Alumni Venture Seed Fund. They’re able to take it to the next level, and it just shows you the trajectory of what our organization and people can do, especially Black male youth and the potential they have. If you really give them the opportunities and pathways to succeed and match that with their passions, the sky is limitless for them.”