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Young Entrepreneurs Academy Nurtures Business-Minded Youth

Sandy—Utah is known as an entrepreneurial state, and the Sandy Chamber of Commerce is doing what it can to make sure it remains that way in the future.

A dozen years ago, the University of Rochester founded a program called the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA), which was picked up by the United States Chamber of Commerce Foundation in 2011. Two years ago, the program made its way to Utah.

“This isn’t job training. This is the real deal,” said Stan Parrish, president and CEO of Sandy Chamber of Commerce.

The Sandy YEA takes applications from entrepreneurially minded students, aged anywhere from sixth graders to high school seniors, who have ideas for businesses they’d like to open. From that applicant pool, 24 students are selected. Their business plans get refined down to 12, with students partnering together, and then the real fun begins.

“In the program, we have classes where [the students] meet once a week, usually from 4-7 pm. We do it at SLCC, where they give a space, computer labs and so forth. The program will go from November to the end of April,” said Parrish. “We have an attorney come in and talk about all the legal ramifications and how to protect your IP. We have someone come in from the bank to talk about finance and banking and loans. We have someone talk about marketing and branding. [The students learn] the structure of a business, how to figure ROI, how to figure out your hard costs and labor costs. They can put together a good business plan with a good financial statement.”

With such targeted focus, the students are able to put together financial projections, a SWOT analysis and marketing proposals. They are given access to CEOs (who sometimes, said Parrish, give them a harsh dose of reality alongside their mentoring) and others willing to help them get a leg up. Parrish said that even students whose business plans are weaker than others learn how to critically think about their businesses and ways to make them work, and present those thoughts with much greater clarity and confidence by the end of the program.

“To see the change in [the students] and see what [they do]—to make that business plan and be able to present it—it’s really one of the best things I’ve seen in the program,” Parrish said. “It’s always great to see success stories, but it’s even better to see them grow in this way and make their lives better.”

At the end of the course, the students make a Shark Tank-style presentation to a panel of potential investors.

“Every student so far, every business, has received some kind of return,” said Parrish. “Every student has received an investment back in their business.”

The overall winner selected by the panel continues on to a regional competition, and can potentially continue on to the national tournament from there. This year’s Utah winner was Emily Guertler, who continued on to win the regional competition and place 3rd (and win People’s Choice) in the national competition in Washington, D.C.

Guertler won $20,000 worth of scholarships from the Rochester Institute of Technology, $6,000 in scholarships from the University of Tampa, $40,000 in scholarships from NC Wesleyan, and a presidential scholarship from Mohawk Valley Community College. Her company, StraightShot Apparel, is a medical line of clothing for children with diabetes. The clothing comes with a zipper located in the upper thigh area, making thigh insulin injections more accessible. Guertler is hoping to expand the line further in the future to accommodate other ports and injection sites to serve more patients.

Many other YEA alumni are continuing on with their businesses as well—nine of the final 12, said Parrish. The Sandy YEA is hoping to expand their reach to more young entrepreneurs with a second cohort of 24 and the creation of an alumni association. Applications are open now, with final decisions being made this October. Parrish said he hopes to see more young entrepreneurs coming through the program—although he’s had his fair share of disgruntled parents calling him, as well.

“Now, there’s a downside. I had a parent come in and say ‘we’re glad for the program, but our kid spent more time on this than their homework!'” he said. “If they’re entrepreneurial, they have that drive. We’d like to see them succeed after our program and start businesses.”

For more information about the YEA program, visit https://sandychamberyea.wix.com/yeanew.