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Meet the Austin man giving away $2k grants for young people to pursue their dreams

(Justin Mares)

Justin Mares has seen the power of some extra cash. His brother, Nick, was in high school when COVID-19 hit, and he could tell he was bored.

“So I saw him kind of struggling with his classes, struggling to feel intellectually engaged or care about what he was doing,” Mares explained. “And I said, ‘Hey, you can have my laptop and you should teach yourself a skill or take some (coding) classes and figure out what are the things that light you up and that that you feel like you're interested in.”

His brother then got into coding and design and launched his own app called question breaker. Through that process, he felt drawn to helping others. So last year, he and a couple of friends released what’s known as an Inflection Grant.

It’s $2,000 for anyone 25 or younger who wants to improve themselves and thinks that amount or less could make a difference in their lives.

“The ideal would be someone that really comes from a background that doesn't have access to a bunch of super-strong opportunities to wants to carve a different path,” Mares said. “Whether it's becoming an entrepreneur and artist, whatever it is, and who could use a little bit of funding to kind of help them take a shot on themselves, learn something, start something, do something, work with someone, whatever it is."

Last year had 17 recipients and the launch for this year’s applications, which are open to anyone in the U.S. or Canada, starts Thursday.

Mares understands chasing after goals as the founder of Kettle & Fire, a bone broth brand available at H-E-B, Whole Foods and other major grocers or by delivery. He first became interested in entrepreneurship in college and after that, he moved to San Francisco and later Austin in 2018.

One of the winners last year was an 18-year-old living with her parents and without access to tools, including a computer, Mares said. So the grant covered a laptop that had performance specs for her to run AI models. Working on those models helped her get a spot as a remote intern for an AI company in San Francisco.

Eventually, the company asked her to work there in a more full-time capacity as a full-fledged intern or junior person. So the grant then also covered her plane ticket to San Francisco and a month's rent.

“Now she's living in San Francisco in the Bay Area and working for this AI company that I don't think she would have been able to work with, reach out to or engage with at all were it not for our grant, which is kind of cool,” Mares said.


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