In the crevices of the MIT campus Innovation Hub, the NBA’s most pressing business questions are being posed.
But don’t be fooled. This is not a board meeting with the league’s senior executives — these solutions are coming from some of the nation’s brightest young minds, with a perspective not often heard on your typical conference call.
Enter NBA Foundation ‘Solveathon’, an interactive, ‘hackathon’-style workshop hosted in partnership with MIT Solve. The event, which was hosted on Saturday, featured five Boston-based grantees of the NBA Foundation. Split into teams, the groups were challenged to map, design and pitch their solutions to problems league offices face daily.
The goal? To inspire young people to tackle real-world business challenges in a way only young people can — in hopes of gaining skill sets to utilize in the classroom, workplace and beyond.
“I hope that youth participants gain a multitude of skills, everything from how to pitch an idea that they have, to executive presence, to public speaking [and] design thinking,” said Lauren Sills, operations leader of the NBA Foundation.
The all-day event encompassed a full itinerary of activities including brainstorming sessions, mentor collaboration and a pitch presentation to debut their ideas.
“The cool thing about the Solveathon is it really [taps] into the creativity and imagination and genius of these young people,” Sills said.
That’s exactly the catalyst for MIT Solve’s inception, according to Eliza Berg, Community Learning Lead at Solve.
“We get to work with people from around the world who have really great ideas and might not have had the support or the resources to grow those ideas,” Berg said. “So that is literally what we are here for, what we exist to do, in order to help those people make a bigger impact in their communities.”
Throughout the Solveathon, folks from Boston-based organizations Action for Boston Community Development, Bottom Line, The Center for Teen Empowerment, Children’s Services of Roxbury and Freedom House each drafted original, experimental ideas with assistance from MIT student mentors and 25 NBA volunteers.
NBA departments in attendance included global partnerships and media, direct-to-consumer, team marketing and business operations and basketball as well as strategy and analytics. Each department submitted its business challenge for Solveathon ranging from “How can the NBA engage and grow our fanbase in new ways?” and “How might the NBA use existing technology to improve the game of basketball?”
“It has been super exciting to see the young folks engage with design thinking and systems thinking,” Berg said. “These are really complex challenges and complex ideas and concepts that they are wrestling with.”
At the culmination of the events, folks presented their pitches to a panel of industry professionals and were able to receive tailored feedback and direction to develop their craft. Judging the competition were Christopher Benyarko (NBA executive vice president, direct-to-consumer), Allison Feaster (Celtics’ vice president of team operations and organization growth) and Evan Wasch (NBA executive vice president, basketball strategy and analytics). In serendipitous full-circle fashion, Wasch is an MIT graduate himself.
To Sills, this opportunity is only a stepping stone in the success of the young folks involved in the Solveathon.
“When people think about a job, they particularly think about the certain skill sets, but the skill that’s actually the thread for every type of job you have … [is] you’re constantly solving problems,” Sills said.
“All those skills that we’re giving to them are going to be applicable and transferable to whatever industry that they decide to go into.”
Greg Taylor, executive director of the NBA Foundation, echoes this sentiment and emphasizes the importance of representation.
“Oftentimes, the walls of our NBA arenas, the NBA, even places like MIT, feel unattainable to our young people,” Taylor said. “But we know that people who come to these institutions are just everyday folk. And so [what] we really want them to achieve is not only networking and meeting folks they would never meet before, but also understanding they belong in these rooms and in these hallways.”
Following the Solveathon’s conclusion, each organization received a micro-grant of $500 to continue developing their ideas, which stemmed from targeted apps and in-arena prototypes, among others. Taylor stated that beyond the event, there are always opportunities to make an impact.
“I want the young people to understand that their ideas, however fully baked or not, are valuable ideas and thoughts that really can move business and industry forward,” Taylor said. “They are the leaders we hope we will see in the future.”
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Founded in the Summer of 2020, the NBA Foundation, a joint collaboration between the NBA, NBPA and NBA Governors, have pledged over $300 million over 10 years to create economic empowerment in Black communities. To date, they have touched the lives of 218,000 young people and donated over $97 million to organizations throughout the US and Canada.
To learn more about the NBA Foundation, go to https://nbafoundation.com/