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BUILD National

  • BUILD National
  • P.O. Box 3316
  • Redwood City, CA 94064
  • 650-688-5840
  • 1999
  • Nitita Pongsanarakul
  • National Manager of Data Management and Systems

Program Description


BUILD's mission is to use entrepreneurship to excite and propel disengaged, low-income students through high school to college success. Serving disadvantaged youth has been at the heart of BUILD's efforts since our organization was founded by attorney Suzanne McKechnie Klahr in 1999. Suzanne was teaching business entrepreneurship as part of a public service fellowship in East Palo Alto, California. One day, four Latino boys approached her for help. They wanted to drop out of high school and start a small business. After listening to their plans, she agreed to help them on two conditions: they stay in school and improve academically. Under her guidance, all four students went on to graduate from high school and enter college. This experience inspired Suzanne to found BUILD and offer a four-year program that targets disengaged high school students in low-income communities and uses entrepreneurship to motivate these students to excel in school and go to college.

In 2002, BUILD became a key player in school districts when it went into local high schools and began offering its entrepreneurship curriculum as a daily, credited class. By working closely with the partner schools and their teachers, BUILD began supplementing students' traditional education with the real-life experience of running their own small businesses. This unique experiential learning program increased students' self-confidence, taught them the value of critical academic skills, and motivated them to graduate and pursue post-secondary education. Teachers have seen the transformative effect of BUILD on their students in the classroom, and the schools experience decreased drop-out rates and see more students go on to college.


Today, BUILD operates programs in the San Francisco Bay Area, Washington, D.C. and Boston. We partner with 18 schools to serve 900 students.

Five BUILD students have been awarded the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) National Youth Entrepreneur of the Year award. Three students have been named Gates Millennium Scholars. Four BUILD Instructors have been named NFTE's Entrepreneurship Teacher of the Year. Suzanne McKechnie Klahr was also inducted into the Ashoka Fellowship in November 2006 and in 2011 was named as a Women's History Month Local Hero by KQED and Wells Fargo Bank.

BUILD has been nominated for several awards, including the Fast Company Social Capitalist Award (finalist) and the Manhattan Institute Social Entrepreneurship Award.

BUILD has been featured in the media, including CNN, PBS, NPR, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Bay Area Business Woman News, the Oakland Tribune, and Palo Alto Weekly News.

However, the true measure of BUILD's success lies in our student stories. After all, they're the reason why BUILD exists.

Success Stories

Gilberto graduated from high school in East Palo Alto, California. He recalls, "After my high school freshman orientation, I signed up for BUILD. The idea of making money sold me, but I later realized that a business can be about much more. I was the CEO of Rico n Suave, the winners of the 6th Annual Business Plan Competition. My experience as CEO has taught me valuable skills that I am using in college and hope to use in my career life, such as time management and how to be a successful leader. BUILD opened many doors for me. Through BUILD I was named one of twenty-five young CEOs in the nation by Merrill Lynch. I was named one of five Neighborhood Leaders by Bank America, which included a summer internship. Finally, I flew to New York City and London to study investment with Merrill Lynch in the summer of 2007. These are a few opportunities that I was able to take advantage of thanks to BUILD. BUILD changed my life by opening my eyes to new possibilities. I graduated with the BUILD class of 2008, and joined the University of California, Los Angeles class of 2012, majoring in Economics on a full-ride scholarship. I thank you for all of the support you have allowed BUILD to give me."

Services Provided

  • Career exploration and counseling/internships
  • College admissions guidance and counseling
  • College fairs/campus visits
  • College transition and retention support
  • Financial aid advising/FAFSA completion
  • Leadership development
  • Mentoring
  • Scholarships and last-dollar grants


Race & Ethnicity

  • American Indian or Native Alaskan: 1%
  • White: 3%
  • Asian or Pacific Islander: 3%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 52%
  • Other: 7%
  • African American: 32%

Education Level and
Number of Students

  • High School: 1900
  • Middle School: 0
  • Elementary School: 0
  • Post-secondary: 0
  • Non-traditional: 0

Populations Served

  • Academically At-risk
  • Academically High-performing
  • ESL Students


  • More than 75%

Matriculation & Completion

  • 4-yr College Matriculation: 84%
  • 4-yr College Graduation: 69%