Project ECHO was founded in 1996 by Chip and Vicky Goodman with the vision of providing additional career pathways for high school students. Chip and his wife Vicky were not new to entrepreneurship. Over 25 years ago, Chip founded School-Link Technologies, a company that specializes in providing innovative, full-service Front and Back of the House solutions to K-12 school foodservice. More personally, Chip founded Project ECHO as a tribute to his own father, who never went to college, yet started his own business in food service during his service in the Army – a business that later developed into a very lucrative career.
Project ECHO began as a pilot project in New York City in collaboration with Dr. Lorraine Monroe at the Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem. Dr. Monroe was the founder and served as the founding principal of the Frederick Douglass Academy, a school she turned into an inner-city success story by raising it to a third-place ranking among 180 New York public schools for student achievement. She is also the founder of the Lorraine Monroe Leadership Institute and has written several books, including Nothing’s Impossible and The Monroe Doctrine.
Project ECHO’s pilot year centered on proving that low-income, minority and disadvantaged high-school students could learn transferable employment skills if they were given meaningful and practical business training. The program guided the students through a business plan curriculum and culminated with the students taking over and running the school’s cafeteria (known as the Lion’s Den). The program not only provided meaningful training to the students, but also opened their eyes to a new career option – a different take towards a better future. This experience demonstrated the value of engaging young people, especially in neighborhoods with limited resources and opportunities.
In 1997, Project ECHO relocated to Santa Monica, CA and began working with high schools in Compton, Santa Monica and Los Angeles providing the business plan curriculum and on-campus business support. In the 2004-05 school year, Project ECHO launched an Annual Business Plan Competition which has proven to be successful in engaging students in entrepreneurship. Project ECHO is proud to collaborate with UCLA Anderson School of Management, where the Business Plan Competition is hosted, and whose MBA candidates serve as program mentors keeping teens engaged and active in their entrepreneurial quests.
Since its founding, Project ECHO has broadened its scope of programs and services and today reaches more than 500 teens from more than 20 different high schools.