The Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce’s launch of the The Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) in the fall of 2013 was an opportunity to plant the seeds of an entrepreneurial mindset among interested students in Twin Counties schools for future economic gardening.
The YEA! program educates students in a ground-breaking, intensive nine-month course of project-based, hands-on entrepreneurial education. The year saw students guided through the process of starting a real business including business plan development, investor panel presentations for start-up funding, launching the venture, managing media campaigns, e-commerce and web development, as well as networking events to generate awareness of their developed business concepts. A number of business mentors and speakers interacted with students on various aspects of business planning and launch preparation, providing valuable knowledge and guidance for the students. The YEA! Program, unlike other simulation models, helps develop a fully formed and functioning business, which is carried on by students after graduation or perhaps sold to interested investors.
Graduation Day for the inaugural program was May 29, when five students received graduation certificates with businesses funded and in launch stage, and three students received certificates of participation as they continue toward finalizing their business concepts, marking the conclusion of the program year and the beginning of an exciting journey for many of the students who eagerly embraced this year of intense business study.
Graduating students were Donovan Battle, business concept: Muffin House; Sean Caple, business concept: Sweet, Sour, Savory; Joshua McKnight, business concept: Kicks-Out-the-Box; Tyler Richardson, business concept: Top Shine; and Thane Wooten, business concept: Capital T.
“Following the progress of the students throughout the year has been exciting and we are proud of all that they have accomplished,” said 2014 Chamber Chairman Reuben Blackwell. “Anywhere we can cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit for our area changes the landscape. From this student program, to the Northeastern Business & Entrepreneur Center and to the newly formed INC! Labs initiative, I am certain that our efforts today will have positive impact on our business landscape of tomorrow.”
The Chamber’s launch of the YEA! program was supported by a grant through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and program funding support through the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and is now only the third venture of its kind in North Carolina.
The Chamber additionally partnered with the Gateway Technology Center as the YEA! host site, with grant funding that was sought by the Gateway Technology Center through the ECU/NCSU Collaborative and a one-time $10,000 grant has been awarded by the N.C. State University Office of Research, Innovation & Economic Development for the launch of the program.
Additional partners and sponsors of the program include Boddie-Noell Enterprises, East Carolina University, Edgecombe County Public Schools, Mauldin-Futrell Foundation, Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools, N.C. Community Development Foundation, N.C. Wesleyan College, SpringBoard and Turning Point Workforce Development Board.
The YEA! Program will kick off in September with the new school year under the leadership of David Walker, Northeastern Business & Entrepreneur Center at N.C. Wesleyan College. Students in any Twin Counties school are eligible to apply for the Young Entrepreneur Academy 2014-15 Program Year by contacting program manager Deborah Drye at the Gateway Technology Center at 977-6226.