Menu

Chamber Executive Article Archive

YEA! Young Entrepreneurs Academy

Jodie A. Perry, IOM

Chambers of commerce often face the hard task of bridging the divide between the business and educational communities in their areas. A strong connection is absolutely essential for success in the arenas of economic, workforce and community development. Yet that connection can be hard to establish. As chamber leaders, we most likely have a good working relationship with the main district administrators in our area, but can we actually say that the work we are doing is filtering down to the individual students attending that district? Are the future business leaders for our area being taught about what it takes to be an entrepreneur? Have they been given an opportunity to put their learning into action?

View Article

Chambers of commerce often face the hard task of bridging the divide between the business and educational communities in their areas. A strong connection is absolutely essential for success in the arenas of economic, workforce and community development. Yet that connection can be hard to establish. As chamber leaders, we most likely have a good working relationship with the main district administrators in our area, but can we actually say that the work we are doing is filtering down to the individual students attending that district? Are the future business leaders for our area being taught about what it takes to be an entrepreneur? Have they been given an opportunity to put their learning into action?

History shows that entrepreneurs often can be younger adults. Consider 17-year old Fred DeLuca, who opened the first Subway restaurant in 1965 (now a $9 billion company). Or how about Bill Reilich, a New York state assemblyman, who started a successful alarm company at the age of 18? These are just two examples, but you can see that the dream of owning your own business does not necessarily start when you reach the age of adulthood.

How can we, as chambers, encourage entrepreneurial spirit in young people? Do we simply teach them the basics and send them on their way, or do we walk with them down the path of actually setting up their own business, providing assistance, mentorship and support?

A new partnership

Back in early 2007 when I took over at the Greece Chamber of Commerce, in suburban Rochester, N.Y., I was approached by some board members from our charitable foundation who encouraged me to attend a trade show by an organization called the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, or YEA!, for short. Our foundation had provided two scholarships to high school students from Greece to attend this nine-month program to help young people start their own business. I was truly amazed by what I saw at the trade show that day and what these teens had accomplished. These were not just simple displays reflecting the students’ entrepreneurial learning, but real, live functioning — albeit modest — businesses.

 YEA! was launched in 2004 at the University of Rochester, with grant support from the Kauffman Foundation. This intensive entrepreneurship training program guides middle and high school students through the process of starting and running a legitimate business or social movement over the course of a full academic year. YEA! proved to be popular. In its first four years, it grew beyond the college-based setting to include public high schools. In 2008, YEA!, Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit, was formed for the purpose of making the YEA! program available to the target demographic of students in grades 6 – 12 (ages 11 – 18) throughout the entire United States.

The inspiration for YEA! came from CEO/Founder Gayle Jagel’s quest to help her 8-year-old daughter start a business. “We found that there weren’t any materials to walk a child through the actual process of starting and running a real business,” she says. “The more research I did, the more it became clear that lots of kids wanted to learn how to start and run their own business. In fact, seven out of 10 high school students indicated that they were interested in launching an enterprise! Young people with drive, creativity and passion really can change the world, and YEA! helps them see this.”

The principal from my local high school was present at the same trade show I attended and saw the same value I recognized in the organization. With his guidance and support, the Greece Central School District became the pilot site for the school-based program, which ran successfully for two years with support from our Chamber.

Last summer, when budgetary challenges forced the program to be cut, our Chamber’s 501(c)3 charitable foundation stepped forward with the funding to run YEA! as an afterschool program in a unique partnership with the Greece and Hilton school districts. Seven student entrepreneurs just graduated in June 2011, and support from the business community was strong. Two local entrepreneurs volunteered weekly to teach the class; investors donated money to help the students get started, and mentors stepped up to work one-on-one with these students.

Chamber involvement

The Lake Zurich Area Chamber of Commerce in Illinois was the first chamber to work with YEA! in the afterschool model. This came about through a chance conversation I had at a meeting with Dale Perrin, IOM, the Chamber’s executive director. I shared what I had observed at the 2007 trade show, and this grabbed Perrin’s attention.

“Our Chamber was searching for a more effective and impactful use of our scholarship dollars that we raised every year,” he says. “Once I learned of and realized the positive impact YEA! was having on the students who went through the program, it was an easy decision — this program provided the positive, life-changing impact on participating students that we were seeking.”

Lake Zurich launched its first class in the fall of 2008. “I would have to say that I’ve been most impressed by the great business ideas the students have come up with and their level of poise and professionalism when they present their business at the Investors Panel event,” says Perrin. “Our membership has given its unanimous support for this program. Without question, it has been one of the most positive and beneficial decisions our Chamber has made in the past five years.”

The success of the Lake Zurich and Greece programs reinforced what Jagel had already realized — that chambers are the perfect vehicle for bringing YEA! to communities throughout the country. “Chambers are thrilled not only with the impacts the program makes on the youth in the area and the district as a whole, but with how the YEA! program provides the link between the business and educational communities in the area,” she says. “YEA! is all about the ‘Make a job. Don’t just take a job’ approach, and chambers really support that idea.”

The excitement about this unique program is spreading. At least half a dozen chambers in Illinois are bringing YEA! to their towns, and dozens of other chambers around the country are considering it. At the Wake Forest Area Chamber of Commerce in North Carolina, President Marla Akridge, IOM, jumped at the opportunity to bring YEA! there for the coming school year.

“YEA! is an initiative that complements the entrepreneurial mindset and mission that we have in Wake Forest,” says Akridge. “One of the goals of our region is to cultivate young leaders to create businesses in the area; the YEA! program is perfect for that.”

Business community support

It can be daunting for chambers, large and small, when they are starting a program that requires heavy volunteer support. From the very beginning on the University of Rochester campus, however, the YEA! program has garnered strong support from the Rochester business community.

“We decided to provide a number of our management staff as volunteers as a ‘win-win’ for both organizations,” says Christopher Booth, president of Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield in Rochester, N.Y. “We get to help the kids develop their skills, but we also believe our volunteers get energized by the attitude and enthusiasm the kids bring to their businesses.”

In fact, business leaders are excited to see such an innovative program encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit in the next generation. Even busy leaders in the Rochester area who may not be typical “school volunteers” at this point in their careers have taken time to be involved on multiple levels. Lauren Dixon, CEO of Dixon Schwabl, an award winning advertising agency, has served as a field trip host and advisory board member for YEA!.

“As a business owner, I know first-hand the benefits that the YEA! program offers the next generation of entrepreneurs,” says Dixon. “YEA! provides students with the practical, real-world skills needed for success, but it also provides the partner institutions with a unique way to develop deeper connections with the local business community who serve as mentors and guest speakers. But most important, the YEA! program is helping to nourish the entrepreneurial spirit that fosters innovation, finds solutions and drives our nation’s economic engine.”

Student perspective

How has this program impacted the lives of the students who have been through it? What draws them to commit to nine months of intense work?

“YEA! taught me how to transform an idea and a passion into an enterprise,” says Eric Meyer, a 2005 graduate of the program (as a high school sophomore). “It was without a doubt the most life-changing program I have ever been a part of. From business plan development, to pitching your plan on a stage in front of investors, YEA! taught me to believe in myself and that you can achieve anything you put your mind to, even at a young age.”

Meyer also found another unique benefit to participating in YEA!. “The knowledge, skills, and confidence I left the Academy with helped me launch a second business only months later called Young Scholar Adventures, LLC. This company designs, launches and manages youth academic summer camps for students across the northeast United States.” In fact, 19 percent of the 500+ students who have completed the YEA! program so far have gone on to start a second business.

Support for starting YEA!

Chambers interested in hosting the YEA! program at their local high school(s) will receive a strong level of support and training from the YEA! Launch Team, which provides program management and training materials, and delivers program manager and instructor training. YEA! will train chamber representatives to launch, market and teach YEA classes; provide marketing templates and materials for implementation of YEA! at the local high school, and implement the roll-out strategy so that eligible institutions can understand the processes necessary to host the program successfully. Sites are also supported weekly with calls from YEA!’s site support specialists.

A chamber’s investment to provide the YEA! program at a local school district is $7,600 per year for three years. The local school district must provide a classroom, computer lab, event spaces, access to students, parents and faculty, and transportation to the six field trips each year for three years.

Download this article: YEA! Young Entrepreneurs Academy PDF (4)

Go Back | Send this page to a friend
OFFICIAL CORPORATE SPONSORS
Accrisoft is an Official Corporate Sponsor of ACCE American Express is an Official Corporate Sponsor of ACCE Aventura World by Central Holidays West is an Official Corporate Sponsor of ACCE, the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives Benfits Trust is an Official Corporate Sponsor of ACCE Citslinc is an Official Corporate Sponsor of ACCE Insperity is an Official Corporate Sponsor of ACCE Market Street Services is an Official Corporate Sponsor of ACCE, the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives United Networks of America is an Official Corporate Sponsor of ACCE The U.S. Chamber is an Official Corporate Sponsor of ACCE
Sponsorship and advertising opportunities 2018 ACCE Annual Convention