Chamber nurtures entrepreneurs

A student in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy presents her business plan to a panel of prospective investors. The Chamber is bringing YEA! to Nevada for the first time in October with a program in Reno.

A student in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy presents her business plan to a panel of prospective investors. The Chamber is bringing YEA! to Nevada for the first time in October with a program in Reno.

expect to see a new generation of business presidents and CEOs in Reno/Sparks by mid-2016. Not unusual?

This crop of business owners will have yet to graduate from high school and some may not have even started.

The YEA! program — Young Entrepreneurs Academy — is coming to northwestern Nevada in October with the help of The Chamber Reno-Sparks-Northern Nevada. The national program, new to Nevada this year, trains students from sixth through 12th grades to start their own businesses — real businesses.

Since it began in 2004, 4,000 graduates from the program nationwide have launched 3,000 businesses, said Leslie Masterpool, event and program manager for the Reno chamber.

“We want to unleash the potential of the students in our area,” she said.

Currently, the chamber is accepting applications for students interested in being a part of YEA! and business leaders interested in mentoring them.

“We have a lot of great community support coming out already,” she said.

Jennifer Fonda, who previously worked with the chamber’s Young Leadership program, is part of the team recruiting adult volunteers to be mentors and presenters.

She’s excited to see YEA! come to town with its broad age base and the opportunity to reach “young thinking minds.”

“Such amazing ideas they have that we haven’t thought about,” she said.

With a background in banking, Fonda, who now works for California Outdoor Properties, expects to teach the students what a business owner needs to know about banking and finance.

Business owners can help the program in numerous ways including sponsorships, judging applications, as guest lecturers and hosting field trips.

The biggest need, and the greatest commitment, is for mentors.

The 24 students accepted into the program this year will be divided into about 12 groups, each with a mentor who will guide them in brainstorming business ideas, developing a business plan, business etiquette, presenting their plan to prospective investors, legally registering their business, and launching their business or nonprofit.

It’s a commitment that Devin Sizemore, president and founder of online marketing company MarkUBiz, is excited to fill.

“One of my biggest passions is entrepreneurship. I volunteered to be a mentor, a speaker; I’m open to pretty much anything they need,” said Sizemore, who has taught entrepreneurship at area colleges.

“I’m 25 years old and president of my own company. I want to share how I got here.”

He understands the entrepreneurial drive. Sizemore said he had an entrepreneurial spirit growing up, tutored while in high school and had a photography business in college. He graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2012 and started MarkUBiz in September of the same year.

“I’m excited that there’s a program like this,” Sizemore said of YEA!, something he would have liked when he was young.

“Reno is really supportive of local business,” he said. “One piece of this is the Young Entrepreneurs Academy and making sure they are starting young.”

Besides the weekly lessons and exercises, YEA! students participate in three major events during the 30-week class: formal presentations to an investor panel, a tradeshow and a formal graduation.

Perhaps the most daunting event is the investor presentations. Similar to ABC TV’s “Shark Tank,” the students will present their business plans to a panel of real investors ready to put dollars into worthwhile businesses.

At the end of the program, YEA! graduates will have legitimate businesses. According to the YEA! website, many previous graduates have gone on to expand and to open additional enterprises. The businesses are as varied as photography, promotional videos, fitness programs, nonprofit learning centers in rural India, beading kits, baked products and raising free-range pigs.

Students interested in participating can find applications online.

Besides answering background questions, applicants must also include a current school transcript, essay and a recommendation from a teacher, pastor or other leader. Qualified applicants are then interviewed.

“The questions we’re asking will help identify the kids who are really passionate and can handle their school load and (at the same time) work on their dream of owning their own business,” Fonda said.

There’s a $10 application fee. The cost of the 30-week program is $395, and some scholarships are available.

The Reno YEA! schedule begins with an orientation meeting Oct. 15 and continues until the end of May (except school holidays). Classes are 3:30-6:30 p.m. Mondays at the Tahoe Meadows Community College Meadowood campus.

Despite the rigorous application process, Masterpool expects the 24 slots to fill up well before orientation.

Business owners interested in participating can find more information on the chamber’s website.

It’s a great time to bring the YEA! program to northern Nevada, Fonda said.

“It’s complementary to what’s going on at Startup Row,” she said, referring to Reno’s entrepreneurial hothouse on First Street between Virginia and Washington streets. “It’s really going to be something incredible.”


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