“This is our Summer of Innovation, and it’s a chance for you to be the changemaker that you are, to find a problem that you think is worth solving, and to solve it by making your ideas come to life,” says Pharrell as he invites students to join the Summer of Innovation. The competition, powered by YELLOW and held each summer, gives students the mentorship and funds to realize their creative potential and make their entrepreneurial ideas a reality. We had the opportunity to talk with one changemaker, Kamryn, winner of the 2020 elementary level for his Safety Box.
“COVID-19 has changed the world,” Kamryn explained over Zoom, “and the Safety Box is a box that helps the homeless because the homeless can’t buy masks and gloves and all that. It has masks, gloves, a custom Safety Box T-shirt, hand sanitizer, and the biggest thing about it is a solar sanitizing machine. With the solar sanitizing machine, you could wash your mask and gloves, and it’s solar powered, so all you need is sunlight.”
Drawing on his experience with the Safety Box and other projects, Kamryn shared his advice for future entrepreneurs.
Work Hard (and Don’t Quit)
“Entrepreneurship is a lot of work. You can’t be slacking off and stuff. You can’t be wanting to stop in the middle of it because you can’t stop in the middle of everything. You have to finish.”
Kamryn has already spent countless hours on his Safety Box. His mother, Tylesha, encourages him to put in the hard work because, in her words, “You have to work for what you want. It’s not going to always get handed to you. With Kamryn being his age, it’s getting instilled in him now.”
There were weeks of brainstorming possible projects, during which Tylesha insisted on honesty: “I didn’t want to hurt his feelings in the beginning, but there were just some things that I knew he wasn’t putting his all in, and I knew what he was capable of. So me being truthful with him pushed him further.”
Then, after he had the idea of a portable sanitizer box for the homeless, he had to research how sanitizer machines worked. From his research, he designed his own sanitizer box, adapting the principles to serve homeless individuals. He drew diagrams, designed a logo, and laid out a plan.
His mother told him, “Whatever you need that I can go out and purchase for you to display it, I will. You have my support.” There were T-shirts he glued his logo on and poster board he used for the video pitch. Tylesha insisted he spent an hour each day on the project, and “The hour that I knew he had to put aside for it, I sat at the table with him. I pushed him. That was what I needed to do as a parent.”
Since his pitch was selected by the Summer of Innovation judges, Kamryn also receives the support of a professional mentor. They meet weekly, and in between their meetings Kamryn gets personalized assignments, such as gathering COVID-19 health metrics, researching packaging, and defining words. When we talked, Kamryn was preparing to make sample Safety Boxes for a consumer trial with the local homeless population. The work will only be increasing, but Kamryn has the support and grit to meet the challenge.
Find Your Empathy
According to Kamryn, empathy makes him “a better entrepreneur and a better person.”
Indeed, empathy was what first got Kamryn thinking about the Safety Box. Tylesha recounts, “We were at the store, and we came home, and there was a homeless man sitting outside. Kamryn asked me, ‘How did the homeless stay protected?’ And I said, ‘That’s a good question.’ That’s when he started just thinking of these items to go into the Safety Box. I told him, ‘This is your project. I can give you my input, but you have to do it on your own.’ And he did.”
“When you see a homeless person,” Kamryn explains, “their face motion to me—they look not happy. That’s how I notice they need a little bit of help or something.” Now, he is offering that help through entrepreneurship and innovation.
Kamryn’s journey as an entrepreneur began with his creations. “At one time,” he told us, “I started selling my own books. I had over 200 books, and I would sell them to people for $3.00. So basically I was entrepreneur at nine years old.” With hand-drawn books—including a favorite anime story of a boy from another planet who had a fox tail and the ability to protect others—Kamryn used his creativity to fuel his first business venture.
This creativity is not new. According to Kamryn, “I always like to create stuff. At my grandma’s, I would ask her for the toilet paper rolls, so I could create a robotic hand or something. I made a katana. I made a cardboard katana.”
“He’s always creating things,” Tylesha agreed, “things that you wouldn’t even imagine. Like the toilet paper rolls and the boxes, and it was just always pieces of paper everywhere, and he was just writing and coming up with stories and drawing.”
Later, he created entrepreneurial pitches as part of Pharrell’s summer camp. And creativity—from brainstorming to logo design to product innovation—was central to his Safety Box pitch.
Now, as Kamryn’s working on realizing the Safety Box vision, he continues to pursue other creative endeavors. When asked if he’s still writing, he broke into a smile: “Most definitely, most definitely.”
Kamryn says it’s important to stay true to yourself and have your own, unique idea “because you don’t want nobody else’s to be like yours.”
He explained with an example: “What if you went to school one day, and you were doing a sale—you were selling cookies, your friend was selling cookies, same kind of cookies, and they got more stuff than you. I don’t want to do that. I just want to make my own so people can come to me instead of fighting and doing all that.”
Tylesha encourages him to stay true to himself. For the Summer of Innovation, she would tell him, “Kam, be original. You don’t want to have something that’s already out there. You want yours to stick out as different. So if it takes you having to research and take the time, you do what you need to do.” And he did.
“I’m just trying to focus on this project right now before I move onto something else,” Kamryn said when asked if he had any ideas for the future. “Only fate will show what’s next.”