Backed by Gates Foundation, 2 students earn inaugural fellowship for future entrepreneurs

The Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI) says two Jackson State University students are part of the inaugural cohorts of fellows in the Mary Ellen Pleasant Entrepreneur (MEPE) Fellowship program supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.



The program aims to increase future entrepreneurs from HBCUs and is part of the foundation’s $775,000 Innovations in Career Advising grant.

Jasmine B. King is a junior majoring in political science with a concentration in pre-law in the College of Liberal Arts. The Vicksburg native aspires to obtain a juris doctorate and start a career in the corporate sector.

Biruk Abate is a junior computer engineering major in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology. He has worked with the Google igniteCS team to introduce STEM programs to high schools in Jackson. He also led the JSU NASA Swarmathon – a team that participates in a NASA-hosted robotics competition.



Ultimately, the native of Addis, Ethiopia, wants to build a technology ecosystem on campus in support of student entrepreneurship.

All participating HBCU students will have the opportunity to build a peer-advising startup through a 10-week virtual fellowship during this spring semester with help from a minority-owned recruitment marketing platform, The Whether, and its virtual business. Also, The Whether will use information from its scientifically validated Clarity Assessment to sharpen the critical-thinking skills of students about their post-secondary life.

Reciprocally, the fellows will introduce the assessment to professors, student organizations and individuals on campus. Their main goal is to gather feedback and help their peers while also experimenting with various business principles to maximize their reach.

While MEPE will provide fellows an opportunity to build their own startups, the cohort will gain other valuable experiences, too:

  • Learn key startup principles and the components for successful and sustainable entrepreneurship
  • Participate in a virtual curriculum on marketing, the customer funnel, and the business model canvas
  • Collaborate with each other across partner institutions through periodic virtual meetings
  • Experiment with innovative techniques to assist students on campus in identifying career paths and interests early