The goal of The Enterprise Center’s YES Program is to champion youth and promote entrepreneurship. Training camps, school-based curriculum and for-profit ventures are among the ways the YES Program connects Philadelphia youth to resources available at the 35,000-square-foot mixed-use center.
It’s a natural extension of the center’s mission, says Lee Huang, vice president of new ventures. "We’re in the business of promoting entrepreneurship. 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.’"
YES participants are youth ages 12-19, most from Philadelphia public schools, of African-American descent and from low- to moderate-income families. In the past year, more than 700 young people took part in training camps and business events at The Enterprise Center.
The business camps bring youth to the center and increase awareness of the center among local residents as a commercial activity and entrepreneurial learning center. YES reaches another 700 youth by a school-based curriculum in seven public high schools. This four-year program — called Youth Enterprise Education Project — lets students spend part of their junior and senior years at The Enterprise Center getting business experience from producing a business plan to operating their own ventures.
"We wanted to work within the school district — that’s where our kids spend most of their waking hours," Huang says. "We promote entrepreneurship to youth ... not only as a vocational track but as an educational process."
The Enterprise Center is a 10-year old nonprofit business incubator that recruits and nurtures entrepreneurial talent and grows start-up companies in urban communities. The center houses 20 start-up companies and provides support services, counseling and mentoring to those businesses and 10 affiliates that maintain their own offices. The Enterprise Center was named NBIA’s 1999 Business Incubator of the Year.
Representatives of incubator businesses have served as mentors, spoken at youth camps and offered internships and jobs to YES participants. Incubator client Darnell Thomas is owner of D. Thomas Accessories, a kiosk operation selling hats, gloves, jewelry and other accessories. As a case study company for Basic Training ’99, Thomas made a presentation about his planned new business which will open in a storefront next fall. He then got feedback from his target youth market about merchandise, prices, store layout, security and theft, and other topics. "I got primary research that’s hard to come by for less than thousands of dollars," Thomas says.
YES is becoming a feeder program for other Enterprise Center training programs. Six YES participants have moved on to the Prudential Young Entrepreneurs Program, a 10-week business preparation class for people ages 18-30.
"I was already trying to do the business; that’s how come I went to Boot Camp ’99," says Isa Richardson, 19, a co-owner of comic book company Arson Entertainment. Then he attended the Prudential program. "It got me thinking more like a businessman and less like a comic book artist," he says.
Frank Dowd, 17, another creator in Arson Entertainment, hooked up with the incubator after he saw activity going on there and stopped by. Since then, he’s taken classes, including the Prudential program. Although he’s not yet published, he’s learned that it’s "not just about making the books, it’s about selling and advertising."
"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 an intermediate program in the incubator.
YES has helped strengthen incubation program ties to such corporations as Timberland, Bell Atlantic and Ben & Jerry’s. A new for-profit venture, a youth-run Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parlor, is in the works.
Besides winning this honor, YES also earned the Model Program Award at the 7th National Youth Entrepreneurs Symposium in 1999.
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