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Ryan Maha of Carnegie Mellon Engages High School Students in Entrepreneurship Program

Ryan Maha of Carnegie Mellon Engages High School Students in Entrepreneurship Program

From Carnegie Mellon University Athletics

Junior sharp-shooting guard Ryan Maha is making his biggest impact off the court. The Tartans' leading three-point shooter is helping underprivileged high school students to become entrepreneurs. 

Maha, a native of blue-collar West Mifflin near Pittsburgh, and former CMU teammate Blake Chasen have developed a program, "Empowering Entrepreneurs," to excite and inform students about the possibilities of starting their own business.

"At CMU, I'm attending classes with some of the most elite students in the world," said Maha, a public policy and management major with a business minor.  "I met Blake who is just as passionate about entrepreneurship and giving back to community. I'm not sure I would have found that somewhere else and I certainly wouldn't have had the community connections I have here in Pittsburgh."

Those community connections are what helped Maha and Chasen take their idea of Empowering Entrepreneurs into local Pittsburgh schools.

Maha and Chasen were granted permission to teach lessons in entrepreneurship to students at Maha's alma mater, West Mifflin Area High School, once every few weeks. The students and faculty enjoyed it so much they wanted to make it a full-time course. Other school districts in the area heard about the program and reached out to learn more.

A few Power Point presentations quickly morphed into a full curriculum with an event at the end of the semester similar to the ABC television show "Shark Tank."

Chasen, who founded the startup flagtag, is very familiar with pitching an idea.

"Blake and his company went through an accelerator program at AlphaLab in Pittsburgh and were part of a demo day where they gave a five-minute pitch to a room of investors and thousands of budding entrepreneurs," Maha said. "We felt that was a cool experience for Blake and his team and wanted to do the same, on a smaller scale, for the students in our class."

Maha said it has been rewarding to see the students learn about customer acquisition, target markets, monetization methods and distribution models.

With Chasen having graduated in 2016 from the Tepper School and taken a job in New York City, Maha has enlisted the help of teammate Chris Shkil and other friends to continue the program this year. They are continuing to teach at West Mifflin and are now offering the program to students at Steel Valley High School and Kiski Prep School.

"We want this to become a national program and believe we can do it in a few different ways," Chasen said. "We can continue to expand in the way we are now by getting college students on other campuses excited about providing this program at schools in their community, or we could even develop an online program to license to schools that will allow them to create their own "Shark Tank" programs. We just want to make sure we give the largest number of kids the most opportunity to grow into entrepreneurs."

Maha and Chasen plan to offer summer entrepreneurship camps in June and they have received interest from the Allegheny County Jail.

Maha said he is looking forward to helping young people with their rehabilitation.

"It's sad because a mistake shouldn't define you. If we can help in their rehab process, get them back home in their communities, that'd be great. There are currently 22 students [in the Allegheny County Jail] that fit the high school age range."

Maha credits his teaching success to his ability to connect with students.

"We're very interactive and try to create an environment where it's comfortable to speak out and throw ideas against the wall. We try to relate it back to their lives and their community and they are more actively engaged because of it," Maha said.