Commonwealth Journal

Local News

April 12, 2014

Program connects kids with business community

Somerset — They’re business-savvy, they’re motivated, and they’re ready to present their business ideas to the world.

And they’re not yet out of high school.

On Monday, April 14, the students of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, or YEA, will present more than 20 weeks’ worth of work in the form of a business pitch to local investors in hopes of garnering some funding to help their ideas take flight.

“This is a tremendous program,” said Bobby Clue, director of the Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce, which is spearheading the effort to connect the business world and Pulaski County’s youngest minds.

This is the first year for the local program, and it features a small class of dedicated students who, with the help of local business professionals serving as mentors, learned the ins and outs of starting a business throughout the 30-week program.

Tomorrow evening’s “Shark Tank”-like event — in which the students will present detailed business plans to local business leaders in an effort to catch someone’s eye — is kind of the culmination of the challenging program, although the students have around eight weeks left in the schedule.

“We’ve been very hands-on,” said Clue, about the program. “We’ve had so many people involved.”

Clue said the idea began with the chamber’s last president, Leah Taylor, who pushed for a program that would help bring the business community and area students together.

“We felt there was a disconnect between the school systems and entrepreneurs,” said Clue.

Officials with the chamber then began a search for a program that would help bridge that connection, and they came across YEA, based in Rochester, N.Y. The program is being carried out by business organizations across the country, including in Danville and Louisville.

“We went and met with (Danville chamber representatives),” said Clue. “They said ‘You’ll never regret doing this.’”

This year’s class features two high school students, both with Southwestern High School, two Northern Middle School students, one Southern Middle School student and one Science Hill Independent School student.

“We’re fine with that,” said Clue, about the small class size. “They get a lot more personal attention.”

That attention has helped the students to overcome challenging tasks throughout the program.

“It’s actually really hard,” said Taylor Linkes, 18, who is a senior at SWHS and YEA student.

Clue said a number of local professionals have stepped in, along with the school systems, to help the program get off the ground. Several business leaders have served as mentors to the students through the entire process.

And the process has been detailed indeed. Clue said students have learned how to negotiate with vendors, borrow money from a bank, write and present business plans, and more. Basically, they’re learning the many steps that go into creating a business.

“They probably have more knowledge about how to form a business than people who are much farther along,” said Clue.

Clue pointed to the program manager, Delores Dalton, for helping the students get through the challenging program.

“She was in the trenches with them,” said Clue.

Linkes said Dalton “has been amazing.”

“She guided us, explained everything to us, and gave us constructive criticism,” said Linkes.

That focus between the mentors and students has been the key ingredient in ensuring the program succeeds, said Clue.

Linkes said her mentor, Pulaski County Community Development Director Tiffany Bourne, has been “wonderful” through the process.

“They (the students) can now take their ideas from their minds, put them down on paper, and make them reality,” said Clue.

Linkes intends to present an idea called “The Setlist,” a photography business that would feature event shots (think Somernites Cruise, Master Musicians Festival, etc.) that are made immediately available to customers via the Internet — as in, while they’re still at the venue.

“I’m nervous,” said Linkes, about her presentation, “but I think I’m pretty good to go.”

The winner who emerges from tomorrow evening’s event will move onto a regional YEA competition, in which he or she will compete against more YEA students ready to pitch their ideas to a panel.

Linkes, who hopes to go to law school but wants to keep photography as a side venture as well, said the program is a worthwhile one.

“How are you going to have a future without teaching the future?” asked Linkes.

Clue said the chamber has committed to three years of YEA programs. But he’s hopeful YEA will have a place in Somerset beyond that.

“Honestly, my goal is to do this forever,” said Clue.

Monday’s presentations are open to the public and will be held at Somerset Community College in the Citizens National Bank Community Room. A reception is slated for 5 p.m. Presentations begin at 5:30 p.m.

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