Penn Student Mentors High School Entrepreneurs in West Philadelphia

Three years ago, when, as a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, Winfred Rembert III promised himself that he’d make time to volunteer, he had no idea that promise would lead to him to marketing breakfast bars.

Rembert, who is from New Haven, Conn., began by working with kindergarten students at the Henry C. Lea Elementary School tutoring basic math and spelling skills, through the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships.

But since May 2016, Rembert, a senior psychology major with a concentration in consumer behavior, has been using his marketing background to help the student-run social enterprise Rebel Ventures. The initiative, which is incubated and supported by the Netter Center, involves Penn and local high school students in the production, sale and distribution of breakfast bars to teach nutrition, encouraging entrepreneurship, provide healthy affordable alternative snacks. The business model is designed to support the ongoing project.

As the marketing coordinator of Rebel Ventures, Rembert tracks and monitors business communications benchmarks, oversees social media outreach and mentors a team of high school entrepreneurs in directing marketing strategy that includes research and development, accounting and operations.

“I knew I could use my marketing skills while continuing to help the community,” says Rembert.

His team consists of seven paid students from nearby high schools, including Sayre, Bartram, Parkway West and Mastery Shoemaker. With Rembert’s guidance, the group has successfully marketed the breakfast bar. The product just launched and is available on the menus of public schools that serve nearly 80,000 children across the city.

“This is the first time the students have had control over the food they eat in schools, and now every student in the Philadelphia school district will be able to eat food created by students,” Rembert says.

Ira Harkavy, the associate vice president and founding director of the Netter Center, says this kind of collaboration is mutually beneficial.

“Undergraduates, like Winfred, and the high school students working with Rebel Ventures are making important contributions to improving the community and to learning at Penn and in West Philadelphia public schools,” Harkavy says.

Looking back on the project’s development, Rembert remembers working with one student to formulate a plan to approach the School District Division of Food Services and ask about sharing the product across the district.

“One idea that came up was to have professional chefs and tasters give product reviews and show the District that they taste good,” Rembert says. “I explained to the student that we’re only able to use what limited resources we have right now.

“We realized that as a high school student, he could represent other students and there was a sense of empowerment,” Rembert says. “The crew could be the taste-testers. That was the first moment I truly understood my role as a mentor because I can help these students see their abilities in a way they may not see immediately.”

Jarrett Stein, the Netter Center’s director of University Assisted Community Schools Health Partnerships and Social Ventures, facilitates the relationship between the Netter Center and Rebel Ventures. He is responsible for connecting the high school students and Penn students involved with the project to the space, tools and support they need to run their business.

“This demonstrates what can be achieved when Penn students and high school students solve real-world problems together,” Stein says. “Their creativity and entrepreneurial energy are unleashed.”

Stein says the social enterprise worked with Penn students and faculty from the School of Arts & Sciences who were involved with Academically Based Community Service, or ABCS, courses, as well as student groups and courses from the School of Social Policy & Practice, Law, Wharton and Integrated Product Design.

Rembert adds that he’s proud of the high schoolers and is looking forward to seeing what they accomplish in the future.

“Every crew member understands the impact they make on both their peers and students younger than them,” Rembert says. “Our entire crew demonstrates the persistence and determination that gives them the power to do what no student before them has done, and this is only the beginning.”