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HBCU students’ Detroit mobile grocery idea lands them Ally internships


Alabama A&M University students won the Ally Financial Moguls in the Making competition, each winning a $10,000 scholarship and an internship at the company. (Photo: Ally Financial)

Several historically Black colleges and universities students walked away with internships and thousands of dollars in scholarships after creating business plans that would solve Detroit-based problems in a competition. 

The second annual HBCU business plan pitch competition, called Moguls in the Making, was hosted Sunday by Ally Financial Inc., which is based in Detroit. Ally Financial partnered with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and Big Sean’s the Sean Anderson Foundation to host the event. 

Excitement was shared virtually Sunday evening as teams from 11 HBCUs had the opportunity to share how they would solve Detroit-based problems. Students and their mentors were focusing on arts and entertainment, banking and finance, leisure and hospitality, health and wellness, real estate, education, energy, automotive, government and nutrition.

Industry experts who worked with students are Detroit-based or have a connection with the city “and those issues that are either prevalent or systemic within the Detroit area,” said Reggie Willis, chief diversity officer at Ally Financial.  “It’s not just about solving for the issues, but it’s also about how do you give back to the communities where you live and, ultimately, the communities where you do business.”

Students from Alabama A&M University won first place, each receiving an internship with Ally and a $10,000 scholarship. The group’s Detroit-based presentation focused on how to solve nutrition problems in Detroit by creating a mobile grocery store to assist with food accessibility. Team members also said they would teach young people how to eat healthy while on a budget and create an app that would provide more information on food accessibility.

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Students who won the top prize are Chaz Holder, 19, a mechanical engineering major of Indianapolis; Justin Lindberg, 21, a computer science major of Chicago; Dermyrius Lindsey-Lewis, 21, a computer science major of Mobile, Alabama; Dominique Spence, 21, a management major of Albany, Georgia, and Deja Strong, 21, a social work major of St. Louis.  

“Winning Moguls in the Making means more than just winning a pitch competition. It’s a chance to further innovate and gain top industry level connections that fuel the future,” said Strong. “As future leaders of America, it’s crucial that we obtain these kinds of experiences with the many different people and entities that are involved, and TMCF and Ally have given us this opportunity.”

Creating a pipeline of future employees

Florida A&M University received second place. Hampton University and the Spelman College and Morehouse College teams tied at third place. Each of those teams’ students won scholarships, internships and other prizes. Overall, the 50 HBCU students who competed were chosen out of 570 applicants. 

Detroit-born rapper and 2006 Cass Tech graduate Big Sean was a judge in last year’s competition and recorded motivational videos that were featured this year. Six of the students who participated in last year’s Moguls in the Making are now full-time employees at the company. 

“At Ally, diversity and inclusion have been at the center of our culture,” Willis said. “We understand that by bringing diversity and difference into our organization, it’s just going to make us better. We really focused on how do we amplify that, how do we create a pipeline of students, how do we continue to create and have the opportunity to access these great minds.” 

Ally Financial hosts similar opportunities for students who attend universities in Detroit. Mentors from the company have been active with the Mike Ilitch School of Business at Wayne State University for about seven years, Willis said. 

“We try to focus not only from a diversity perspective, not only on Black and brown students, but also on first-generation students,” said Willis. “Students that haven’t had the opportunity or the family support as it relates to the experience of either being a first-generation student from a college perspective, or being a first-generation white-collar employee.”

Contact staff writer Chanel Stitt on Twitter: @ByChanelStitt. Become a subscriber.

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