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Instilling entrepreneurship: The Enterprise Center’s YES Program gives young people vision, education in a recipe to cook up ventures in business and life

by Carol James

August 2000

Can a business incubator instill a culture of entrepreneurship in young people?

If the people who run it are willing to partner with others and can mobilize resources, the answer is YES.

The Youth + Entrepreneurship = Success (YES) Program of The Enterprise Center in Philadelphia, Pa., combines young people with a serving of vision in a recipe that others are becoming eager to cook up in their communities.

YES, even a pinch of failure is part of the recipe. But that ingredient might be hard to see, because the folks at The Enterprise Center, an award-winning incubator, have molded this program into a success. The 3-year-old YES program won the Innovation Award from NBIA this year and the Model Program Award at the 7th National Youth Entrepreneurs Symposium in 1999. The Enterprise Center was a 1999 NBIA Incubator of the Year.

YES is a natural extension of the center’s mission, says Lee Huang, vice president for new ventures. That mission is to recruit and nurture entrepreneurial talent and grow startup companies in urban communities. “YES is the fertilizer of the future,” says Della Clark, president of The Enterprise Center. “Those are our next generation of entrepreneurs.”

From entrepreneurship camps to assistance starting for-profit ventures, YES connects Philadelphia youth ages 12 to 19 to resources available at the 35,000 square foot Enterprise Center. The center simmers with the activities of a variety of startup firms – a perfect environment for youth to absorb a passion for, understanding of and sense of empowerment about their professional and personal destinies.

“We’re in the business of promoting entrepreneurship,” Huang says. “Young people need to understand ‘Hey, I can run a business, and that can be my job,’ or ‘The skills that I learn can carry over to being an employee, to being a teacher.’”

The young people who partake of YES programs are mostly from Philadelphia public schools and low- to moderate-income families. Those who come regularly to The Enterprise Center are mainly from the West Philadelphia inner-city neighborhoods surrounding the Market Street incubator located in the former television studio building that housed American Bandstand. Some YES events draw young people from as far as Dallas, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and New York.

In the first six months of this year, YES programs and speaking engagements touched the lives of 5,100 young people, about double the number for all of last year.

The ingredients

The three main components of the YES Program are “boot” camps, a school curriculum and for-profit ventures. All of YES’s elements fall into the mix under one or more of these categories.

YES is best known for its camps. It really became cemented as a program in August 1998 when more than 100 young people attended the first Boot Camp. This five-day summer camp and a fall program called Basic Training unite YES participants with other entrepreneurs, from peers to presidents and CEOs of multimillion dollar companies.

Boot Camp, scheduled Aug. 14-18 this year, is an intensive program that focuses on business fundamentals. Each of the five days has a topic – vision, networking, sales and marketing, technology, and giving back. “Everything that we do on that day is focused on that topic,” Huang explains. Workshop leaders turn the tables by letting the students provide ideas to the companies. The youth also create marketing and business plans and compete for prizes in business contests.

The fall training sessions, held on three consecutive Saturdays, focus on personal proficiency in such areas as interviewing, business planning, public speaking and other skills that build leadership in entrepreneurs. Retail operators talk about their businesses and participants perform case studies to analyze operations and suggest new policies, Huang explains. Attendees learn about retail businesses, customer service and social entrepreneurship.

The bottom line is not just making profits, but benefiting as many people as possible, Huang says. Participants learn this can be achieved by caring for the environment and disadvantaged people as well as by considering where they buy their goods and how they treat employees and customers. “It gets them thinking strategically about what they do during the day,” Huang says.

“These events take time, energy and resources,” Huang says, “and result in publicity, brand building and good will.”

Clubhouse, an after-school program, began as a workshop series that delved deeply into finances, marketing and other aspects of business. It is evolving into a “cyber café” that provides access to resources and technology.

“We had 30 to 40 kids per session, but it was boring,” says Youth Entrepreneurship Coach Jeff Wicklund of Clubhouse’s beginnings. “They came to have something to do after school. A lot didn’t have business ideas already.” That meant they didn’t have a reason to relate to or retain the material.

This past school year, YES reinvented Clubhouse based on youth interest in accessing resources and technology and on the brainchild of high school student Joy Cooper. “I came up with the idea of a cyber café for high school students,” she says.

“She was interested in the same kind of idea – access to resources and technology,” Wicklund says, noting that The Cyber Clubhouse lets kids hang out, have fun and learn technology. The program has become a market research tool for Cooper as she develops her business plan to create a cyber café in the community.

“I realized that I want to be my own boss and run my own business,” says Cooper, who found YES via Boot Camp. “Clubhouse has given me patience and helped me realize that everything doesn’t happen when you want it to happen. The Enterprise Center as a whole has even made me want to go the Wharton School of Business.”

Many would-be entrepreneurs first get the flavor of YES in their schools through the Youth Enterprise Education Project (YEEP), a four-year high school curriculum. The project’s first two years are predominantly classroom based. In the second two years, students spend part of their time at The Enterprise Center getting business experience, from learning finance to operating their own ventures. Small Business Training, a Philadelphia curriculum maker, designed and leads the project.

Already available in seven West and North Philadelphia high schools, Huang anticipates that YEEP will be in an eighth school this fall. “We want to institute entrepreneurship education in Philadelphia’s 22 public high schools,” he says. “We wanted to work within the school district – that’s where our kids spend most of their waking hours.”

The Enterprise Center and YES remain open to young people all summer, not just for Boot Camp. And YES is looking to do more: “We’re working to take some of our programmatic activities and make them year-round, even intensify them in the summer, since kids have more time,” Huang explains.

A for-profit component of YES is coming to a boil more slowly. One of YES’s first for-profit endeavors will be a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop. “This and other projects like it will offer learning laboratories for young people to develop their skills ‘on the job,’” Huang says.

The scoop shop is a real world example of a business venture that needs some adjustments to its recipe before it’s ready to be served. “We’ve hit some snags with the project, and are working on major renovations in our plan so that we can go back to Ben & Jerry’s for reapproval and the green light,” he says. Such projects add to “our in-house knowledge base in business and entrepreneurship, so that we’ll have more experiences to draw from as we run our program and advise our youth,” Huang says.

The real question is: Can YES serve as it was intended, to develop business leaders who become West Philly’s entrepreneurs? The answer no doubt will be YES.

Some participants already have started ventures and are well on their way to becoming successful entrepreneurs. (For an example, see “Helping Youth Realize Their Dreams,” below.) “Right now, all of our youth-run businesses are still in learning mode,” Huang says, “making some money here and there, and certainly not losing money.” Six YES participants have moved on to the Prudential Young Entrepreneurs Program, a 10-week business preparation class for people ages 18 to 30 and a pilot project of the Prudential Foundation.

“Even though we’ve only been in existence for three years, it’s nice to see people making the step to the next stage,” Huang says of the youth who have gone from YES to another program in the incubator. An in-house internship program is being developed as an intermediate step to train participants in skills they will need for the Prudential program.

“We do want to see young people go from YES to an intermediate program to the incubator,” Huang says. More important than whipping up new incubator clients, though, is teaching young people to be socially responsible, successful entrepreneurs and promoting entrepreneurship as a lifestyle.

The chefs

Huang and Wicklund are the two Enterprise Center staff members who work most closely – geographically and relationally – with youth in the program.

Huang has worked at The Enterprise Center since 1995, when he received a BS in economics from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. As a senior in college, he wanted to be in business. As a Christian, he wanted to help and serve others. And he was young enough to think he could change the world. Clark, who met Huang through the Wharton Small Business Development Center, convinced him to volunteer five to 10 hours a month at The Enterprise Center, which at that time was in 6,000 square feet in an inconspicuous fourth floor across from the present location.

“Our personal and business beliefs converged at The Enterprise Center,” Clark says. She recalls that she wanted to focus on minority, urban and underserved people and “I wanted to have the best incubator in the world.” At Clark’s suggestion, Huang wrote himself into a grant proposal, which was funded.

YES grew out of Huang’s personal interest in working with young people in such venues as church youth groups. “When we began to strategize together and look at what he wanted to accomplish and leave his name on, he said, ‘youth,’” Clark says. The process became a team effort to nurture people, businesses and the area where the center is located. “We just had to figure out a way to bootstrap a youth program out of nothing,” Huang says of the program’s founding in 1997.

Wicklund has added to the vision. He came to Pennsylvania from Minneapolis to earn his BA in urban economic development from Eastern College in St. Davids. He learned the value of grass roots community organizing and of involvement as an agent of change through work with a Philadelphia community development organization, facilitating conversations among businesses in depressed neighborhoods, and a one-year volunteer program in inner city north Philadelphia that dealt with housing issues. He met Huang, and discovered, “The youth angle seemed to make sense,” Wicklund says. Young people could re-create the business environment.

Huang and Wicklund are not the only people youth in the YES program see — many more hands work together in the figurative kitchen. The young people use all of The Enterprise Center’s resources. “We all get involved in each other’s projects,” Huang says. “There are certain things each staff member has expertise in.” For example, an in-house legal coach can talk about copyright issues with young entrepreneurs interested in publishing.

The cooks

YES might be NO without the support of its partners, whether they’re professionals involved in development of youth, company officers serving as resources for business camps or providing prizes for contests, event sponsors, or any number of other people who have time, knowledge or talents to contribute.

“We’re only as successful as our partnerships,” Wicklund says. These include groups that work with youth and already have support systems in place, such as YMCA or Girl Scouts. They send youth interested in business to The Enterprise Center; they also provide a way to follow up with youth through adult relationships. And they become part of an ever-widening network.

“The needs of children are complicated,” Huang says. “Partners help meet those needs” and allow program growth. Also, the ability to cross-promote and cross-refer people increases exponentially the value of the network to everyone in it, he explains.

YES has strengthened incubation program ties to such corporations as AND 1, Bell Atlantic, Ben & Jerry’s and Timberland.

“A lot of how we get companies involved is through camps. They come as speakers and to lead workshops,” Huang says. Company representatives identify what they are working on in their businesses, and the youth, a target market, work on those issues and present their ideas to the company. “In that way we’re creating and strengthening those relationships—they’re mutually beneficial,” Huang says.

AND 1, a manufacturer of basketball apparel and footwear that anticipates $130 million in revenues this year, provides an example. “They understand it’s a good partnership,” Huang says. “They’re entrepreneurs, too,” he says of AND 1, “and a growing business whose model is one young people can understand.” The company shows youth the business side of everyday life. “Kids are consumers,” Huang says. “This exposes them to the other side of the equation – strategy [and] decision-making.”

Other kinds of partnerships are important to the flavor of the mixture. An affiliation with the national nonprofit initiative PowerUP: Bridging the Digital Divide will provide 20 computers to create a drop-in computer center for young people this fall.

“We’re also strengthening our network of partners that we can refer youth to for specific skills training,” Huang says. Representatives of incubator businesses serve as mentors, speak at youth camps and offer internships and jobs to YES participants.

Milk money

The YES recipe takes between $150,000 and $200,000 a year. Money comes in from financial donations, in-kind contributions of products for prizes and other uses, and some earned income, such as that from registration fees or selling guidebooks to other youth entrepreneurship programs. About 75 percent of the money goes to programs, including internal accounting for the overhead provided by the center. Approximately 25 percent goes to administrative expenses.

Fundraising to support its programs is part of life at The Enterprise Center, which is conducting its first-ever online giving campaign, the Campaign for Youth Entrepreneurship, to support the YES Program.

Statistics show that more than two-thirds of all charitable giving in this country is by individuals, Huang says, and conducting the campaign on the Internet is a way to invite individuals to give. The preliminary goal is to raise $20,000 by Aug. 31.

But no one at The Enterprise Center thinks in crumb-size terms. “One million dollars is what we really want and need to build YES to scale,” Huang says. Projects include renovating the center’s west wing to house youth-run businesses and earmarking a portion of The Enterprise Center’s endowment for YES, he says.

Counting calories

Another challenge is figuring out how to measure YES’s impact.

“We might never know the total value” of the program, Wicklund notes. For example, YES can’t measure the success of what happens when a young person interviews for college, speaking clearly and making a good impression. “If we can move kids on, be a resource to other organizations, evolving and building continuity,” Wicklund says, that in itself is a gauge of success.

Huang is enthusiastic about a new project that will allow more accurate measurement of individuals’ entrepreneurial growth and of the success of the program itself.

“This summer we’re working on some pretty sophisticated metrics that will allow us to document, track and report where a young person is in his or her entrepreneurial development,” Huang says. “We’re particularly excited because I don’t think there’s ever been a yardstick to measure a young person’s development in business and entrepreneurship. When we’ve developed it, the yardstick will enable us to provide better services to each youth as well as aggregate that data to determine the success of our entire program.”

Servings for all

Enterprise Center staff members want to share what they’ve learned about incubating youth entrepreneurs. Huang wants to see young people learning entrepreneurship in nearly every community and says incubators can take the lead in making that happen.

“We can share what we’ve learned,” Huang says, so others can re-engineer YES’s ideas and develop their own programs. YES does that in many ways. Internet surfers can find out what’s going on by visiting To give a deeper look at the elements of creating a youth program, YES sells a book Huang wrote titled “Grow Your Own: A recipe book for cooking up your own successful youth entrepreneurship program.”

The concept of “Grow Your Own” is not to lay out a program that mimics what The Enterprise Center is doing, but to generate ideas so others can create programs that fit the needs of their own communities. It offers an opportunity to learn from Huang’s and YES’s experiences. Just like a good cookbook, the book provides a package of ideas that can be customized to taste by program developers in their own communities. To accompany the text, readers can buy a disk that contains sample documents, timelines, and other templates from which to develop materials. Three hours of consulting are included, and additional consulting is available.

Already YES is working with groups in Dallas, Lancaster, Pa., and Athens, Ohio. Those showing interest in the program are either business incubators that want to add the youth component or youth organizations that want to add the business component, Huang says.

As the YES recipe adds new ingredients, cooks and measuring devices, YES will continue to do what it does best: “Understanding the process of kids coming in with a business idea and helping them develop it,” Wicklund says.

Youth + Entrepreneurship = Success

Year started: 1997

Number of youth served by camps, 1999: 334

Number of youth at other YES functions, 1999: 411

Number of youth in school-based curriculum, 1999: 700

Youth reached by speaking engagements, 1999: More than 1,000

The Enterprise Center

Year opened: 1989

Square feet: 35,000

Focus: Mixed use urban incubator

On-site incubator clients: 16

Off-site incubator clients: 10

Total graduates: 7

Jobs created by client and graduate companies: 291

Total 1999 client company revenues: $4.7 million

Prudential Young Entrepreneurs Program participants to date: 68

Helping youth realize their dreams

Three young men who want to publish comic books are on the way to realizing their shared dream in the Youth + Entrepreneurship = Success Program (YES) at The Enterprise Center in Philadelphia, Pa.

Isa Richardson, Frank Dowd and Rufus Farmer are co-owners of comic book company Arson Entertainment.

“I was already trying to do the business; that’s how come I went to Boot Camp ’99,” Richardson says. Then he attended the Prudential Young Entrepreneurs Program at the center: “It got me thinking more like a businessman and less like a comic book artist.”

Dowd has taken classes in the Prudential program and THRIVE (To Help Realize Independence Via Entrepreneurship), the center’s basic incubation program. Although his work is not yet published, “I learned about not quitting” and that some businesses start over three or four times before they are successful. “It’s not just about making the books, it’s about selling and advertising,” he says of entrepreneurship.

Dowd, Richardson and Farmer share some of their thoughts on successful entrepreneurship in the Spring 2000 issue of YES’s quarterly newsletter.

“Over all I’d say the most important thing we need in our business, more than the industry knowledge and business knowledge combined, is confidence,” Richardson writes. “Without that we’d be nothing.”

Farmer looks at another key ingredient: “One thing you must always remember is that nobody can run a business on their own. That’s why there are places such as The Enterprise Center … So get as much help as possible.”

But the key to obtaining financing and being prepared for other opportunities is the business plan. “It’s the heart and soul of a company,” Farmer writes. “In very many ways the business plan is the entrepreneur. It’s your dream. It’s your mission. It’s what you want out of life.”—CJ

Youth entrepreneurs, from left, Rufus Farmer, Isa Richardson and Frank Dowd, are co-owners of Arson Entertainment.

Ann Bowman, left, represents Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology during a College and Career Fair that drew 300 young people to The Enterprise Center in March.

Lee Huang takes part in Basic Training ’98, a program of the innovative Youth + Entrepreneurship = Success Program.

Keywords: practices, partnerships -- organizational/corporate, seminars and training programs, social entrepreneurship, youth incubation

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