Young Entrepreneurs Academy is a national non-profit organization based in Rochester, NY. The Greater Pensacola Chamber brought the program to Pensacola to teach area students how to start their own businesses. Classes are hosted by the college of business at the University of West Florida. Kelly Reeser is Director of Entrepreneurial Development for the Pensacola Chamber and local program manager for Greater Pensacola YEA.
“If they’re eleven, or they’re thiry-five, they’re gonna go through the same steps that that person would go through to register their business with the state and become their own legitimate entity. The goal is that they would be able to continue these businesses long after the program,” Reeser said.
Public, private and homeschooled students in grades six through twelve from Escambia and Santa Rosa county schools applied for the program. Seventeen were selected. Classes began in October. The first portion of the program focused on crafting the idea for a business, non-profit or social movement. Reeser said the first ten weeks covers generating the business idea, conducting market research and starting a business plan. Randy Ramos is one of three instructors for the program. Ramos says he helps the students vet their business ideas.
“They were kinda quiet, just wasn’t sure exactly what they wanted to do. And they’ve changed. Some of them have changed their business ideas,” Ramos said. “Some of them have teamed up and combined, realizing that their skill set was strong, maybe in finance or marketing, and so they’re teaming up with another business to put that skill to work in another business idea.”
During the second phase of the program, the students will focus on writing a business plan and building a budget. Morgan Thomas is a senior at Tate High School. She has built a working prototype of her product.
“It is a thermal protector. It’s covers that go over the plates of a flat iron, so it won’t fry your hair. It’s made of ironing board material, and I made it to where you can go over any kind of plate of flat iron with Velcro holds,” Thomas said.
Thomas says she wanted to participate in the program to learn how to run a business, since she intends to eventually own her own hair salon. She is one of two seniors in the program.
“I like the people,” Thomas said. “I was expecting more people my age, but it’s more fun to be around middle schoolers, actually. And they have great ideas.”
Both of the Rogers sisters were admitted into the program on a scholarship. They are homeschooled. Suzanne is in tenth grade, Deborah is in ninth grade. Suzanne says intend to create care packages that parents can order for local college students.
“They would place an order and we were gonna make a fresh cake and put some balloons with it, make a card, make fresh cookies, and we’re gonna bring it to them and sing happy birthday,” Suzanne said.
Deborah says they are learning how to write a business plan.
“We’re doing the business plan. They taught me a lot more how to think and prepare ahead. i had to do this step by step. It’s a lot more work, you have to write it out and edit it,” Deborah said.
“We have to do a lot of research, what would be in a care package besides the food and stuff? And we have to figure out how long a cake will last staying fresh. That’ll be fun,” Suzanne said.
On March 12, the students will present their ideas before Shark Tank-style investor panel at the main stage of UWF’s Center for Fine and Performing Arts. The panel of ten local business people will select which students will win grants between $500 and $1000 to execute their business ideas. After that, program director Kelly Reeser said the third portion of the program will begin.
“The students, from March to May, build their product and develop a marketing plan around that,” Reeser said. “They really take their product to market. Then in May, we’re partnering with Gallery Night, we’re gonna do a trade show on Palafox just in front of Jefferson Square. The students will have tables and they’ll be selling their own products based on what they created.”
The local winner selected by the investor panel will advance to the national competition in Rochester, to compete against students from the nearly 80 YEA programs across the US. The program will begin recruiting new students in spring 2014.
More information about the program is available at the Greater Pensacola website, http://pensacolachamber.com/events/yea/, and the Greater Pensacola YEA Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/YEAPensacola.
Katya Ivanov, WUWF News