Suzanne McKechnie Klahr
Lecturer on Law
Winter and Spring Terms 2017
Suzanne was born and raised in New York City by her mother, a public high school teacher in Harlem. Her parents divorced and remarried when Suzanne was young, and both sets of parents instilled in her the value of marrying the competitive drive with a compassionate spirit, an equally entrepreneurial and service-oriented mindset. In elementary school, Suzanne wrote and published "Little Apples for Young New Yorkers," a newspaper marketed towards children. As a teen, she launched and ran an earring business, “Beaudangles by Suzanne”. Throughout her childhood, Suzanne spent time volunteering with those in need.
As an undergraduate at Brown University, Suzanne spent a summer interning at the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. While earning her JD at Stanford Law, Suzanne volunteered at the East Palo Alto Community Law Project.
Suzanne’s experience in Palo Alto sparked her big idea. The residents of East Palo Alto, then dubbed the “murder capital of the US,” were looking for resources to launch their own businesses. Just down the street, Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs and investors were navigating the dot.com bubble and burst. Suzanne saw that, although these two groups of people struggled differently, they both sought to employ the same skillset to build a better future: the entrepreneurial skillset.
When Suzanne graduated from Stanford, she had an offer from Skadden Arps but was awarded the prestigious Skadden Fellowship to do public interest law. With it, she started an organization to help low income adult entrepreneurs gain access to capital and networks to start their businesses. It wasn’t until four high school students came into Suzanne’s office, looking for capital so that they could drop of school and start their own business, did Suzanne find the right market for her program.
At the time, more than one third of high school students in East Palo Alto dropped out before graduation. Suzanne hypothesized that more than just these four students wanted to be successful in business, and that most of these students didn’t see a high school or college education as the most efficient or relevant means of doing so. She struck a deal with these four students: if they stayed in school and improved their grades, she would help them get their business off the ground. Both parties kept their word, demand for Suzanne’s help grew, and BUILD was born.
BUILD supplements a traditional high school curriculum with a four year business incubation program that provides students with real-world professional experiences and academic support using six skills: grit, collaboration, communication, self-management, innovation and problem solving. Today, BUILD operates 5 regional programs in: the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston, Massachusetts; Washington, DC; and, starting in September, 2016, New York City; partners with more than 30 public schools to reach 1,900 students annually, has incubated over 1000 student business, and since 2012, boasts a 97% high school graduation rate and 98% college acceptance rate.
Suzanne has earned numerous awards and recognition for her unique work bringing an invaluable skillset to a disadvantaged population, including: Ashoka Fellowship (2006), CBS’s Jefferson Award (2007), San Mateo County’s Women’s Hall of Fame (2008), San Jose Business Times’ Silicon Valley’s Most Influential Women (2008), the Manhattan Institute’s Social Entrepreneurship Award (2012) and the Elfenworks In Harmony with Hope award (2016).
In addition to her role as CEO and Founder of BUILD, Suzanne is as a Lecturer of Law at Harvard Law School, and at Stanford Law School, where she pioneered the first ever Law School course on “Social Entrepreneurship” in the United States.
Suzanne is married to a fellow entrepreneur. Together, they have two children (7 and 12 years) who may have even more entrepreneurial energy than their parents.