Wednesday, February 9, 2022
A group of six female college students pose with birthday party kits they created.

From left, FostaParty team members Ayla Musharrif, Khira Patel, Malyne Wilkins, Alaine Cooney, Chloe Rice and Isabella Droz. Photos courtesy of FostaParty

by Alicia Dietrich

Over the past couple of years, a group of female undergraduate students has been building out an idea for a business that also helps support their community. FostaParty creates kits to help families throw a free birthday party for a foster child in their family. Thanks to the generosity of a donor, the team will now be able to expand their idea and offer more parties for foster families.

Khira Patel, a UT psychology and business major, drew up on her experiences mentoring a foster child when she was in high school to create the idea. Children who are in the foster care system are less likely to have a positive childhood experience, due to trauma in their lives that led to placement in the foster care system. Patel decided to focus on how to build a positive experience for these kids to create more positive memories, and she landed on the idea of a birthday party and providing free birthday parties to foster families.

She had worked on the concept for two semesters, but things really started coming together when she took the Women in Entrepreneurship course in the College of Fine Arts in fall 2020. The course was created by Jan Ryan, executive director of the Center for Creative Entrepreneurship in the College of Fine Arts, and was co-taught by Ryan and Professor of Practice Kendra Scott that fall. The course is offered by the Kendra Scott Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute.

“FostaParty is a great example of the power of diversity in teams when it comes to entrepreneurship,” said Jan Ryan. “Their rapid progress in class was due to their ability to collaborate and integrate the strengths of each team member.  It was their collective creativity and passion around this problem that quickly brought the idea to life.”

Five women pose in a darkened room on a couch

Most of the FostaParty team met through Professor of Practice Jan Ryan's Women in Entrepreneurship class, though Rice joined the team after hearing about it from Patel, her roommate and FostaParty founder.

Patel was paired up in the class with other women who became her new teammates and business partners: Arts and Entertainment Technologies students Alaine Cooney and Isabella Droz, Studio Art major Malyne Wilkins and Psychology major Ayla Musharrif. Patel’s roommate Chloe Rice, a McCombs School of Business student, also joined the team the next semester.

“Every single one of these women has something that's so unique and that they’re really passionate or an expert about,” Patel said. “Every time we have a conversation, I'm learning something new and able to apply what they teach me not only to FostaParty, but into my life as well.”

As a Studio Art major, Wilkins brought some of the investigative inquiry skills from her creative practice to the table to use in her role as the team’s foster relations and partnerships coordinator. In her role, she’s conducted many interviews with foster families, case workers and other stakeholders to better understand what foster parents need from outside of the foster community.

“For me, I think that being on the investigation side and asking those questions and understanding where do we fit in? Where can solutions arise?” Wilkins said. “I think that's something that, as an artist, I constantly am learning about and constantly figuring out when I'm making my art. Mastering those skills in FostaParty has allowed me to also think more deeply about my ideas as an artist and about the things that I want to explore.”

In the Women in Entrepreneurship course, the team participated in a pitch showcase, where they had to create a pitch deck with a tight elevator pitch and a clear value proposition and business model. They pitched their idea to a panel that included Ryan and Scott, as well as other key entrepreneurs and leaders invited from the community.  The feedback they received helped them hone their idea, and they continued developing the concept in spring 2021 through UT’s Social Entrepreneurship Learning Lab, where they were awarded funding.

Long term, the team hopes to build out a business where families buy a birthday party for their own families, and with the purchase of each paid kit, a second kit is donated to a foster family. For now, the team is focused on raising funds to provide as many birthday parties to foster children as they can.

Thanks to donor David Burke, the team recently were the inaugural recipients of a $5,000 grant to support their next steps. Burke created the David and Tabitha Burke Endowment for Female Entrepreneurship for the College of Fine Arts’ Center for Creative Entrepreneurship to support entrepreneurship projects for female students in the arts. Led by Ryan, the center connects Fine Arts students with training, resources, mentors and more to help them bring their creative business ideas to fruition.

“It’s very exciting to see young artists and young people generally look at the world and say, ‘We can solve this problem through entrepreneurship,’” Burke said. “What FostaParty is doing is incredibly valuable. It’s bringing happiness and joy to children who deserve it in a way that others haven’t thought of before.”

The FostaParty team was recently approved as a 501C3 nonprofit status, and the grant will help support the expenses of that application process. They will also use the money to help shore up their inventory of party supplies.

“Any additional money that we get is money that we can put directly back into foster parties,” Rice said. “So a lot of that is going to go straight to birthday parties providing positive memories for foster children. But then we also are going to be able to use some of those funds to invest in a store of supplies and materials for our future parties. We haven't been able to do that yet because we've been funding on a party-by-party basis. Having an inventory store to pull from for parties will help streamline our processes.”

A birthday party kit with a sign that says "Happy 6th Birthday Maryah"

The FostaParty team assembled a birthday party kit for a child named Maryah.

While the FostaParty team hasn’t been able to attend any of the FostaParty birthday parties due to the pandemic, they did see the impact of their work in a video provided by a foster dad after a birthday party box was sent to a girl named Maryah.

“The FostaParty kit absolutely brought the entire family together,” Rice said. “Everyone was enjoying it, and you can see the light on Maryah’s face and how happy she was. I thought it was also adorable how into it the whole family was. We didn't just have a positive impact on this little girl, but this is a shared family memory. Everyone is going to remember this, and it's going to be a good one.”

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