Knowledge transfer is a result of a Cornell University education, which materializes into many different forms—including entrepreneurial careers that serve global communities, produce beneficial products, and catalyze sustainable economic development. These thriving careers of Cornell alumni entrepreneurs are the foundation of global economic success. They advance innovation and service that make a different in the world. Their companies serve society’s wide-ranging needs, improving the quality of life for people everywhere.
Helping Low-Income K-12 Children Succeed
Karim Abouelnaga ’13, Founder/CEO, Practice Makes Perfect
Karim Abouelnaga, the son of Egyptian immigrants, was the first person in his family to graduate from college. He attributes part of his success to a mentoring program. The company he founded, immediately after entering Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, Practice Makes Perfect, helps academically and economically disadvantaged school children in New York City. He wants to raise their chances for success in the world.
Accepting the reality of inequality and overcoming some of the initial frustrations, Abouelnaga founded Practice Makes Perfect on this premise: “All children—regardless of their race or socioeconomic status—have equal potential to compete intellectually in our society,” he says.
Abouelnaga, a TED fellow, set a goal to decrease the academic achievement gap between low income and middle to affluent income children. He was 18 when he founded Practice Makes Perfect. At age 23, he made the Forbes 30 under 30 Education list. He has worked with more than 60 schools in New York City—a venture grounded in research, entrepreneurial skills, and determination.
“The inequality was staggering and unfair. So many children in communities and households just like mine were being written off before they were given adequate resources to succeed,” says Abouelnaga.
Practice Makes Perfect partners with k-12 schools in New York City to offer high impact academic programs, helping students reach proficiency before, during, and after school hours. These programs translate into supplementary curriculums and intensive tutoring, offered in several formats: summer sessions; before, after, and during school programs; and weekend sessions. Practice Makes Perfect leads opportunities for children to gain skills in key academic areas.
Founded in 2010, the company’s vision is to level the playing field for low-income children. Abouelnaga started the company one summer with a goal of raising $100,000 to serve 500 students. Practice Makes Perfect has now served more than 5,000 students, and at the same time the company has trained approximately 500 aspiring teachers and created more than 1,000 seasonal jobs in some of New York City’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Having received many entrepreneurial accolades, generated over $7 million in company revenue since his Cornell graduation, and published his first book Breaking Through: From Rough to Ready (2018), Abouelnaga remains passionate about his direction. He says, “I continue to be moved by the progress as our students have gone on to graduate from Cornell, Brown, and many other top universities. However, the disparities are wide-ranging and the work is just beginning.”
Abouelnaga was decisive about his career path. After spending his summers on Wall Street at Goldman Sachs and Black Rock, he declined fulltime job offers so that he could work on Practice Makes Perfect, fulltime. “I had been blessed with an elite education at Cornell and had firsthand experience of going through some of NYC’s most struggling schools. I was compelled to act, out of a feeling of moral obligation,” Abouelnaga says.
On entrepreneurship, Abouelnaga says as a child, spending time around his entrepreneurial father had a huge impact on him. “I inherited an abnormal appetite for risk and a creative perspective.” This was a realization for Abouelnaga after overcoming a most challenging period for the company. “An investor came back to me and said, ‘I didn’t expect you to pull that off.’ The only thing I can attribute that to is sheer will to succeed and just the right amount of naïveté,” says Abouelnaga.
Abouelnaga cites many instances in his Cornell experience that helped boost his entrepreneurial adeptness: the Hunter R. Rawlings III Cornell Presidential Research Scholars program for learning to ground his work in research; Cornell professors for encouraging his pursuit of Practice Make Perfect and allowing him to bring it to the classroom; and the many Cornell alumni entrepreneurs with whom he connected, humanizing the profession for him.