You can give your teen a head start in the career world by educating them about entrepreneurialism. The skills they learn will set them up for success as an adult.
When 17-year-old Chelsea Russell visited the Chicago Mercantile Exchange two years ago she was amazed by the whirlwind of activity – the shouting; the back and forth barrage of trading at dizzying speeds. “Back then it seemed like mayhem,” says Russell, a Hume-Fogg student, who traveled to Chicago with Youth About Business (YAB), a Nashville-based program that teaches children ages 10 -18 how to successfully navigate the high-stakes business world and become entrepreneurs.
The eye-opening trip, along with YABs intense hands-on educational model, exposed Russell to the kind of wheeling and dealing that she’s now familiar with. “I told myself that I could do the same thing one day. I’ve gone from a mindset where I didn’t know what those people were doing to now, where I know a lot more about the world of finance, stocks and bonds,” she says.
Teens in Business
Real-world experience has become the hallmark of the non-profit YAB, which was founded by Sam Kirk 13 years ago. “I think it’s important that we give students the opportunity to discover how America works,” says Kirk. “One of our themes is that we give students the skill-sets that will help them rise above their circumstances,” he adds. Kirk himself engaged in his first business experience at the age of 16 as a salesperson for the Southwestern Company, working with Southwestern for 17 years before leaving to start YAB with a simple mission in mind: providing young people from low-income and underserved communities the opportunity to chart their own destinies and possibly own their own companies.
Since that time, nearly 2,000 young people have attended the YAB training program, and they now host training at their center located in North Nashville.
When Kirk first started the program in 1992, he set in motion a full-scale entrepreneurial training program that even some of the nation’s most highly-recognized corporate executives admire.
“Executives often say that there is not a business literacy component being taught in our school systems,” says Kirk. “Our program helps to demystify the corporate world.”
Members of YAB don’t seem to take their opportunity for granted even though it means giving up their weekends – every third and fourth Saturday – to pore over the type of complex business concepts that many adults find challenging to master: P&L statements, real estate lease agreements, mergers and acquisitions – all the while learning from some of the area’s top accountants, attorneys and business owners who volunteer to mentor them.
After immersing the kids in the mechanics of business development, it doesn’t take long before students are set free to operate and oversee YAB’s three small-business operatives, putting them in charge of real dollars and real customers.
As early as age 15, the students run the YAB Specialty Company, which sells custom-made products like T-shirts, pens and calendars for personal and business needs. The YAB Real Estate Company teaches kids about lease agreements and land investments. The students also run a 30,000 square-foot retail training center in Murfreesboro which sells slightly used goods. Youth About Business has also established its first national training program, expanding beyond Nashville to New York. Next year it will open similar models in Philadelphia and Chicago.
While 75 percent of YAB students are African-American, the program has expanded to include children from all races and economic backgrounds. And all of them are usually surprised when they find out just how much control they have in operating the companies.
This past summer, 16-year-old Alec McGuffey, a Montgomery Bell Academy student, attended the Youth About Business Championship Summer Business Camp Competition at Columbia University in New York. To qualify for the competition, the top student teams had to excel in YABs Basic Business Camp at Vanderbilt University. It teaches high school students the basic disciplines necessary to complete a mock merger and acquisition.
“The camp was great,” says McGuffey whose team assumed the executive management role of a publicly-traded company and negotiated a multi-billion dollar transaction. “There were times that we were lost, but the attorneys who were there prepared us well.” McGuffey anticipates finding out who won the competition when YAB announces the winning team at its annual banquet on Friday, November 11, at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.
And the entrepreneurial leadership program will also celebrate its own success. This year it commemorates a record-breaking year, in which the kids surpassed the revenue they generated last year. In 2004 they produced $660,000 in program-service revenue from their training centers. It’s an achievement that Kirk envisioned when he first started YAB, and it gets better: Ninety percent of the students enrolled in Youth About Business go on to college. Kirk says, “No matter what community children come from, all students want to become successful, and Youth About Business prepares them to do that.”
Cassandra Finch is a freelance writer.