When future Project 99 co-founders Yulkendy Valdez and Josuel Plasencia met in January 2014, they immediately clicked. At that time, they both were freshmen at Babson College as first-generation college students, but these were not the only things they had in common.
“It was really easy to find each other because we were… some of the only Dominican-American students at Babson,” Plasencia said in an interview. “It was a three-hour conversation.”
“It was really easy to find each other because we were… some of the only Dominican-American students at Babson.”
Among the topics that the two students discussed, the prominent one was race — more specifically, the challenges of growing up as Millennials of color in the U.S. Born and raised in Queens, N.Y., Plasencia grew up in one of the most diverse neighborhoods of New York (and places on Earth). As for Valdez, she moved from Haina, a town in the San Cristobal providence of the Dominican Republic, to Missouri at age 11.
Since things were not always easy for them, the two fellow students decided to do something about it and in 2016, they launched Project 99. The social venture, they explained, organizes corporate programs to help employees of all backgrounds feel valued within their company’s culture, with a special focus on Millennials of color.
The company makes money by selling its activities to corporations. Programs, which can be tailored in modules of 90 minutes, 9 hours or 90 days, are meant for both employees and executives and work in three steps. First, there’s a reflection phase, where employees share race-related stories about themselves. Then, people work in teams on ideas and at the end, they present solutions to their co-workers. Overall, programs are meant to accelerate and encourage diversity.
According to Valdez, one of the best outcomes of the program so far happened at the American headquarters of SAP – a German software company – in Philadelphia last month. Valdez said that the company chose a 9-hour program for 23 “future leaders” of the company.
Project 99 – one of the companies’ that went to the 2017 edition of the Babson Summer Venture Program, together with CliqBit, Wanku and Detrapel – said it currently has five clients, including SAP, initiatives in the nonprofit space and Babson College itself.