The first thing you need to know about 25-year-old Daquan Oliver is that he loves Monday mornings. The second thing is that he's wanted to be an entrepreneur since he was a child.
At age 21, Oliver founded WeThrive, a non-profit that works to close the opportunity gap by deploying undergraduate students to run entrepreneurship programs in under-resourced communities. It was something that Oliver had planned to do since he was a teenager growing up with a single mother in a low-income area. It was there that he noticed the disparity in education and opportunity between where he lived, and where he went to school.
"Living in Mount Vernon, New York, a mostly under-resourced community, and going to New Rochelle High School for its school system and extracurricular benefits taught me a lesson about the different opportunities afforded to children living just a 15-minute bus ride away," Oliver says. "At 14, I made a promise to my community and myself that despite all obstacles I would become successful and help other children in similar backgrounds become successful as well."
By all metrics, Oliver achieved that goal. At the end of his undergraduate career at Babson College in Massachusetts—which boasts one of the most prestigious entrepreneurship programs in the United States—Oliver had earned a pile of awards, including shout-outs from Entrepreneur's 2013 College Entrepreneur of the Year Competition; the following year, the Clinton Foundation named him to its list of Five Black Student Leaders to Watch in 2014. Babson was lucky to have him, as it turns out, because he almost left his freshman year after being discouraged by the under-representation of black students on campus.
"At some point throughout fall semester, I realized that, if I left, I'd be reducing the 13 freshman African-American student population to 12 and I'd only be making the problem worse," Oliver says. "I felt it necessary to take a stance and commit myself."
Since its founding in 2014, WeThrive has sought directly to reverse a statistic from the National Center for Children in Poverty: that 42 percent of those born in the bottom fifth of the economic distribution remain in that bracket into adulthood. As WeThrive participants learn to create a business venture from start to finish—with help from a mentor—the program's young people gain the kind of life skills and positive habits that Oliver believes will help them throughout their personal and professional lives.
Along with his drive and ambition, Oliver's success can be traced back to his willingness to find something positive in the difficulties he can't avoid.
"One of the philosophies I live by is embracing chaos—or the idea that chaos is just tragedy plus opportunity," he says. "Any time there is chaos, tragedy exists of course, but there is also an opportunity to gain strength and improve from the scenario."
Explore the complete list of this year's 30 top thinkers under 30 here.