National Youth Bike Council | Philadelphia, PA
A bicycle got the wheels of entrepreneurship spinning for Joshua Funches
Joshua Funches never saw himself as an entrepreneur, but he was inspired by an earn-a-bike program he participated in when he was younger and the Youth Bike Summit. That experience showed him what a difference learning a simple skill like bike mechanics can make in one’s confidence, and it turns out that bicycling is where his leadership path would lead. Now he’s the founder of the National Youth Bike Council, a non-profit dedicated to a promoting youth cycling.
Joshua’s interest in advocacy and organizing for a cause began early. He attended an online high school that didn’t have a student council or any kind of student representation. Joshua knew he and his classmates deserved representation even if they didn’t attend classes in person so he attended board meetings, created a logo, and developed a plan for a student council. The school administration was impressed by Joshua’s plans and his willingness to take a leadership role, but nothing ever came of the student council idea. Joshua refers to that experience as his first lesson on how politics work.
“Creating and presenting a plan for a student council, showed me my own passion for development and leadership for young people.”
Even though the student council never came to fruition, Joshua learned that youth leadership might be his calling. “It was better for me because I learned that I was passionate about this,” he says. Another entrepreneurial lesson came from a weekend music program. Initially, Joshua didn’t feel like he was any good at playing the viola and he wanted to quit the program. His parents encouraged him to stick with it, and eventually he began to see progress in his music skills. Both cycling and advocacy are like music in that you get better at them the more you do them.
“I didn't wake up one day wanting to start a business. I just wanted to bring all of these young people together who were passionate about cycling. After seeing the momentum, it was a no-brainer. ”
Growing up, Joshua learned these valuable lessons that would make navigating adulthood easier, but his childhood didn’t really prepare him for entrepreneurship in a traditional way. Like many Sky’s the Limit entrepreneurs, Joshua describes limited access to resources and the basic feeling of not knowing where to start. Looking back, he can recognize that he didn’t even know there was something missing in his education: “You don't know something exists until you know it.” Then, when he began exploring the idea of starting a business, he realized he would have to do a lot of research, something he doesn’t enjoy but found necessary in the process. “Well if you don't know what to do, you should find out… but it's really not that simple,” he says.
Joshua’s initial idea was to gather bike councils across the US to create a space for youth-bike advocates and the like. When the group he gathered turned out to be pretty large and passionate, he realized it could be an actual organization, not just a group of people. That’s when the National Youth Bike Council was born. Joshua drew on his experience with other councils and with cycling and combined that with the enthusiasm of his peers to create an organization that aims to “drive, promote, and advocate for bicycling, bike safety, education, and youth leadership.” But Joshua knew he needed help with the practical aspects of starting and running a business.
“Sky’s the Limit works. The access to connections and the way the program is set up is incredible. I wouldn’t know that Claudia exists without Sky’s the Limit.”
Joshua’s experience with Sky’s the Limit has been filled with eager volunteers. There’s Claudia Viek, Founder/Catalyst of Invest in Women Entrepreneurs; Dave Hansen, Chairman of Swanson Russell; Mitchell Kwapick, Technical Analyst at Accenture; Maryam Aram, Strategy and Consulting at Accenture; and John Coleman, Managing Director + Principal of 1123IT, DXLabs.org, and 1123Interactive, to name a few. These individuals have given Joshua hope that his business idea has value and promise. He gained a lot of confidence when his mentors didn’t immediately shoot down his idea but instead encouraged him to pursue it.
About Claudia, Joshua says, “ She’s really good at keeping me accountable for the things I say. When I say I’m going to do it, she makes sure I do it. She’s just as creative as I am and we have tons of conversations about that. In the beginning, she was really clear on the expectations about the relationship we were forming. It showed how serious we were about getting stuff done. She’s gone through a lot recently in her personal life, but nevertheless she’s still been readily available to help me. I wouldn’t have worked this hard without her. She’s absolutely phenomenal.”
And Claudia echoes Joshua’s enthusiasm for their partnership: “Joshua and the Council are at the apex of a trend—of bicycling as a healthy, environmentally positive, youth development activity. We are both excited by his possibilities and grateful for the support of Sky’s the Limit.” She explains the myriad of constructive ways she has mentored Joshua: “We addressed questions of governance, and how to engage his leadership. I advised him on creating a board of advisors to supplement his skills, which he immediately did. He also reached out to national partners for advice and that ultimately led to a surprise award from the National Bike Summit. We are now looking at attracting sponsors to fund his upcoming conference in October.”
Like the National Youth Bike Council itself, Joshua’s dreams for it are twofold, one part philosophical and one part practical. He wants the organization to be able to exist without him. After all, he won’t always be a “youth,” and that aspect is integral to the group’s mission. But before he departs and leaves the business in good hands, he wants the National Youth Bike Council to host the annual Youth Bike Summit, which happens in a different city every year. Hosting that event would signal that the National Youth Bike Council is a serious presence in the national cycling scene, and that would be a milestone in Joshua’s entrepreneur journey.
Joshua acknowledges that bikes provide freedom, fun, and friends to youth. If you're interested in seeing what the Council is up to, you can join their Discord, watch Twitter, and Instagram or visit www.nybcouncil.com/press-and-results.