A Man on a Mission

An Entrepreneur Turns Adversity into Opportunity

Karim grew up in Queens, New York, the second of seven children. His father died just as Karim turned 15 when they became welfare recipients. Karim’s family was in poverty, and now he was to take on the mantle of man of the house.

I met Karim at a presentation I gave at Points of Light, a civic incubator in Atlanta. My job was to share what was important in a startup from an investor’s perspective. After the presentation, a couple of the entrepreneurs introduced themselves. Karim was one of them. Something about him drew me in.

He founded Practice Makes Perfect.

At the age of 18, Karim started this nonprofit. He asked me for financial support. I didn’t know him well, but I knew I needed to support him and his organization. It struck me that this man was at the beginning of greatness. He will be a leader and difference maker in our world.

In spite of his modest background, he graduated from Cornell University. He got there when he applied near the end of his first year at Baruch College, one of the massive City Universities in NYC. He was looking for scholarships and found one offered by the United Negro College Fund and Coca-Cola. The scholarship offered $10,000 for any student who could come up with a solution that involved corporate intervention for the achievement gap in America.

Karim took the challenge.

It would set his life on a course to impact thousands. Through his research, he discovered and proved that a child’s home zip code has the highest correlation with eventual personal achievement. He verified our zip code, in most cases, determines how high we can go in life in the United States.

The statistics he found impacted him personally. He said to me, “These were not just statistics. These statistics had faces. These were the people I grew up with. I am one of these statistics.”

He knew this research was not a means to his end, but a means to other people’s end, a way to help those who are in the wrong zip codes.

He didn’t win that scholarship but managed to get a total of $300,000 in scholarship and need-based aid to attend Cornell University. Not only was he the first in his family to graduate from college, but he did so in the top 10% in his class. He had internships at Goldman Sachs and BlackRock. Upon graduation, he had job offers from Wall Street, including BlackRock. He turned these opportunities down so he could continue working on and building Practice Makes Perfect.

Kathy and I met Karim for dinner on our visit to NYC. I asked him to meet me so I could better understand how he made it out of poverty. I got what I wanted and a whole lot more. Karim gave inspiration. He told me my job is to see the potential in the people I’ll be speaking to. To encourage them and give them confidence.

This is Practice Makes Perfect.

From his research 2.5-3.5 months of what a child in poverty learns in a given school year is forgotten over the summer. This is not true of middle and upper-class students. The summer break causes the teachers in the schools which serve the poor to spend the first part of the new school year in a comprehensive review. Then, and only then, can they begin teaching the new school year’s material?

In the middle class and wealthy families, kids are surrounded by the educated. They are taken on educational trips and summer camps. Not true for the poor. The summer break we all looked forward to as young students provides a huge disadvantage to the poor.

Karim created a nonprofit which addressed a social issue. He later came to realize it is also a pain point for the City of New York. This realization led to him switching his corporate status from nonprofit to for profit.

I asked Karim, “How could you go to college and not continue to help support your family?”

He said, “I had to make a choice. Support them today as an hourly worker or get an excellent education and help them in a big way tomorrow.”

He made the tough choice. He returned to his family and now lives five blocks away so he can make it home on Sunday nights for dinner. His mother and two younger siblings are still in the house. He is a great role model and provider for them and a great role model for hundreds of the poor in New York City.

He is an inspiration to me.