Fostering Diversity and Building Leaders: The BrandLab Story

For about 70 Twin Cities students, the summer of 2017 will perhaps yield an insightful career path — one they never knew existed and could trigger so much passion and opportunity.

Those 70 students aren’t your typical, run-of-the-mill college graduates with a perfected resume, a list of references and a clear, thought-out path. They’re motivated high school students with diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, and are selected among nearly 700 applicants by The BrandLab to change the face and voice of the marketing industry.

Though the true meaning of “diversity” can be different among generations, The BrandLab believes in fostering and representing a unique cohort that has the potential to shape new statistics.

For The BrandLab’s Connect Director, Ken Lawrence, watching students realize their potential is rewarding.

“There’s so much amazing, diverse talent right here in our backyard,” Lawrence said. “It’s just about exposing this to them as a career option. They don’t even know this career path exists.”

How It All Began

When John Olson, founder of the Olson advertising agency, walked around his office one day back in 2007, he realized a lack of diversity in the midst of a population that was growing more and more diverse. Olson took matters into his own hands by creating The BandLab and worked with his agency employees to teach marketing to students at Minneapolis South High School.

Since The BrandLab’s inception in 2007, an outpouring of support from local agencies and professionals took the program to new heights.

In 2009, The BrandLab began rolling in a whole new direction. That particular year, the program had about 10 interns and has grown substantially each year — with nearly 70 eager students expected to be chosen in the competitive process this summer.

“It’s very exciting because the community in the Twin Cities has been so strong,” Lawrence said. “It wouldn’t be possible without partners like Celarity, and with all of these ad agencies, clients and corporations, our non-profit partners, and everyone who really kind of bonds together for this overall goal of diversifying the industry.”

Lawrence is delighted by The BrandLab’s loyal support system, and has seen continual development as more and more companies realize the need for growth.

“Celarity signed on as a partner and supports The BrandLab — we work together. It’s a new partnership with Celarity and we’re really excited about it.”

Making a Difference and Building a Future

When students are selected for an internship with The BrandLab, they begin the program building professional development skills before they’re placed as an intern with some of the top marketing agencies or corporations around the Twin Cities.

Many of those students aren’t aware that working in the field is an option, and are often introduced to a path they couldn’t imagine a life without, thanks to Olson’s idea to start The BrandLab.

A concern for some is the gap of time between the student’s internship and their first job in the industry, yet Lawrence’s position with The BrandLab allows him to help those students navigate the college process and ensures they have the resources they need.

“They’re like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know something like this existed,’” Lawrence said. “They’re able to see themselves work in an environment like that. So we find it motivating. We really want to provide 360 degrees of support for them.”

New faces make an appearance each year and slowly expand into the workforce. In turn, The BrandLab is slowly building and developing a community of young leaders while fostering diversity in the workplace.

“That really is everything,” Lawrence said. “That’s why we exist. That really is the reason why The BrandLab exists and why we’re a non-profit. Diversity — it’s really a dual benefit. The one side of it is an industry benefit. To have that diversity represented within their organizations is only going to produce better work for their business. On the student side, it’s obviously a huge benefit. These are amazing, young talented diverse individuals who now have these amazing opportunities in the industry.”

Spring of 2017: What’s New with The BrandLab?

The BrandLab launched a mentorship program in 2016 and so far, they’ve made 55 mentor/mentee matches (alumni and industry professionals). This summer, they’ll also be implementing a professional development series of 6 workshops for alumni. If you want to get involved in the BrandLab mentorship program, you can learn more about it here!

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