State’s first Young Entrepreneurs Academy begins Tuesday
What inspires a young person to become a young entrepreneur? And once they are inspired, what keeps them motivated to continue in that grueling yet rewarding business?
YEA, or the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, hopes to harness the inspiration, the motivation, and the practical tools necessary in entrepreneurship and instill them in the new generation of innovators by partnering with Western Connecticut State University, and creating a class to be held in WSCU’s Entrepreneurship, Research and Innovation Center (ERIC) for middle and high school students,
“Young people today, especially millennials, are not taking the risks necessary to begin their own businesses, to fully invest in a good idea. They have high debt, student loans; they are afraid to take that risk,” said Bobbi Jo Beers, local business owner and program manager for YEA.
The Ridgefield Chamber of Commerce is helping launch Connecticut's first YEA program with support from Ridgefield Academy, St Mary's School, Ridgefield Public Schools, and the Boys and Girls Club.
“This entire program is so exciting because when we start with younger people and kids, they can carry these skills and knowledge through to college, and maybe could use their businesses to help pay for college,” said Beers. “We want young people to take this class so that they won’t have that fear of going out on their own.”
The program will be 30 weeks long, starting on Nov. 1 and continuing through May. It is a weekly three-hour class that occurs after school.
‘Interactive as possible’
However, it will be no ordinary classroom.
“I know how kids work; I know no one wants to go from six hours of school to another three-hour class,” Beers said. “That is why we will make classes as interactive as possible. We hope three hours feels like 30 minutes.”
Although they have not yet released an official full curriculum, there will be at least eight guest speakers and six field trips.
It will be very hands on, according to Beers, with students doing their own market research, brainstorming, and practicing speaking in front of an investor panel.
Connecting innovative minds
Dr. Pauline Assenza, associate professor of management at WCSU, said she is extremely excited about hosting YEA. She oversees the programs at ERIC and is a large part of the entrepreneurship initiative at the Ancell School of Business and their efforts to “turn Western into a true center of innovation.”
“We are all embarking on this project to connect innovative minds wherever they may be,” she said. “It starts with kindergarten; getting that passion and ideas going and capturing that enthusiasm.
“Hopefully the students end up doing something that is meaningful, and then, hopefully, staying in Connecticut, contributing to the economic output that we as a state are trying to promote.”
At the end of the program, the students will each have created a business and will give a presentation, Shark Tank-style, to a panel of investors made up of local business owners. They will decide how much money to give each student, whether more, less, or exactly what they asked for.
It will not stop there.
“The investor panel will also choose an area winner to send to Rochester to compete in the YEA Saunders Scholars Competition against other YEA students for scholarship money as well as other start-up prize packages,” Beers said.
However, before any of this can take place, the program needs students. An info session will be held Tuesday, Aug. 1, at 6 p.m. for students, community sponsors, parents, and even teachers. There is also a nomination form online where people can nominate students they think should be a part of this program.
“We do have at least three scholarships available, and we are hoping for more,” Beers said.
“We are going to make sure that no child that is qualified is turned away because they cannot afford it.”