Each week, staff writer Paul Wood talks with a high-tech difference-maker. This week, meet University of Illinois student JOSH GITOGO, an entrepreneur who is executive manager of the university’s chapter of the socially conscious Enactus program.
You started a foundation in the Chicago suburbs while in high school. Have you always seen yourself as an entrepreneur?
I actually started the Gitogo Foundation my freshmen year in college to benefit the high school in my hometown of Romeoville. It was started out of my desire to help make college more affordable for students in my hometown. I was able to receive a lot of support from friends and family to give three $500 scholarships. However, I realized that while giving money to students entering college is great, it’s not a sustainable solution, and it does not address the problem of educational inequality or the affordability of college.
What was your next step?
I joined Enactus at the UI and was able to see how to create long-term solutions to problems.
What attracted you to Enactus?
I heard about Enactus my freshman year through a few friends and it seemed very interesting.
I’ve always been attracted to entrepreneurship and the idea of using business to make a change in the community was something I wanted to be a part of. Fast forward two years and I can honestly say it’s been the best decision I’ve made in college.
Do you and you fellow students feel a need to improve the world?
I think myself and many people in Enactus are not necessarily trying to improve the world since that is a lofty goal, but trying to apply our skillset to something bigger than just school or an eventual job. Enactus is an incredibly diverse organization with students from several different majors and backgrounds. I think most of us are just fortunate that we’ve been given the opportunity to attend a school like the UI and want to know that we can do something more than benefit ourselves.
What projects do you oversee?
As an executive manager, three projects including Grounds for Growth, Stay Glassy and Research & Development.
Tell us about Grounds for Growth, which uses discarded soap and coffee grounds to create soap and scrub products. Is it in a growing phase? Does it still work in cooperation with the residents of Restoration Urban Ministries?
Grounds For Growth is in a great spot right now. We are looking to improve our processes of managing the business while searching for long-term selling partners in hopes to really increase sales the following semester. We are still working with Restoration Urban Ministries by teaching the residents vocational skills every Friday, and once Grounds for Growth generates enough money we want to work with Restoration Urban Ministries to employ someone to take over business operations.
How is the recycling project Stay Glassy going?
The project is going really well. At the end of last semester, we were able to start a partnership with Developmental Services Center. We want to teach people in the Champaign community with disabilities our process of running the business in hopes that they will be able to receive supplemental income.
Just for fun, tell us a little bit about your hobbies. I see rollerblading is on your profile on the Enactus page.
I’m a big fan of rollerblading and riding my Penny Skateboard, which is basically a small skateboard.
The campus is so big that I needed a fun way to get around! Other than that, in my free time, I love going to concerts as well as watching and playing basketball.
Does Enactus receive any UI funding?
Enactus is funded primarily through grants we apply for, membership dues and competition. Enactus is an international organization, and every year, we have competitions where we showcase our projects and receive some funding based on how we place. Illinois Enactus is actually registered as a 501(c)(3) that is self-sustained and we do not receive any funding from the university.
TECH TIDBITS ... from JOSH GITOGO
Do you have a favorite thing to follow on social media, or an app you really love? I don’t use social media too often, but my favorite YouTube channels are ones that analyze movies and TV shows through video essays as well as a channel called “Jubilee” that interviews people with totally opposing views on a topic and forces them to try to find the middle ground.
Book or Kindle? What are you reading right now? I prefer having a real book in my hands when I read, but I’m also into audio books for when I’m driving or walking around. I’m currently reading “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell.
Do you have an entrepreneur hero? My entrepreneur hero is Steve Case. I think he really set the tone for what many people think about big-name tech entrepreneurs with America Online.