Newark startup PeduL partners with AACCNJ to launch scholarship campaign for underrepresented students

Kayla Michèle and Chisa Egbelu are all about opportunities for students from underrepresented communities. The idea, however, comes with a catch. These students have to actually have access to these opportunities for the concept to work.

It’s why Michèle and Egbelu co-founded PeduL, a one-stop-shop scholarship application for minority college students, in 2016.

They feel its value has never been greater as New Jersey companies are looking to diversify their pipeline and walk the walk on their racial justice statements.

For this reason, PeduL has created the #StepUp20 Challenge, a $10 million scholarship campaign that hopes to unite 20 or more brands to support students of color affected by both current pandemics: COVID-19 and racism.

Earlier this month, the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey announced its partnership with the Newark-based startup.

Egbelu said the partnership is more than symbolic.

“The African American Chamber of Commerce, just historically, they’ve done so much good work here in the state,” he said. “They have access to some places that we don’t. And that’s really where they’ve been helping us. And so together, we’ve been able to work and ensure that the Black students here in New Jersey aren’t going to be forgotten.”

Michèle agreed.

“Not only are we democratizing access to education and to career mobility for students, but the African American Chamber of Commerce is opening doors and democratizing access for us, to get to the corporations that we otherwise never would have,” she said.

The #StepUp20 campaign will give brands access to PeduL’s talent network of 5 million students via a universal scholarship application, while simultaneously empowering those corporations to identify, nurture and grow student talent that is purposefully diverse.

Egbelu said the students on PeduL fill an increasing company necessity.

“We’ve been doing this for underrepresented minorities across the board,” he said. “And, when it came to these corporations before this took place, we were a ‘nice to have.’ Now we are a need.”

Michèle said PeduL’s campaign will be more than a one-time donation.

“Although we are capping out at 20 companies for the brand alignment and narrative, we’re welcoming the opportunity to bring on more companies over the next two to four years,” she said. “This isn’t just a one-time, tax-deductible donation. It’s a long-term, conscious commitment from these corporations to engage with this community.”

So far, PeduL has received a $10,000 donation from Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey. While Egbelu and Michèle are excited to grow in the state, they also are setting their sights on national impact in the future.

“There’s a reason why we’re a proud Newark-based company,” Egbelu said. “New Jersey has always been in the forefront in this country of moving things forward.

“While New Jersey still has a long way to go, there’s a specific reason why we’re not seeing the same riots and protests here in this state that we’re seeing just across the river, or just across the border in Philadelphia. And it’s a testament to who we are and what we can be.”

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