Eight students, one only 11 years old, have been steadily laying the groundwork for starting their own companies with ideas that include pleasant-smelling gym bags, a shoe that charges mobile devices and a neck holder that supports hands-free viewing of a tablet of phone.
They comprise the new Young Entrepreneurs Academy class of 2018 that is sponsored by the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce and Ahwatukee Chamber Community Foundation to teach youngsters all the ins and outs of starting and running a business.
This year, the students are getting an additional boost from the Art Institute of Phoenix and a Tucson graphic design company, which have partnered with YEA! to give the students’ businesses some additional professional polish with individualized logos, business cards, website and an ad.
And while dozens of local professionals and business owners are lending their time and expertise to mentoring and teaching the youths, YEA! director Pamela Manwaring said the program still needs help in the form of sponsorships and investor panel members.
The students come not only from Ahwatukee but surrounding communities as well, since the YEA! Academy is the only one of its kind in the East Valley.
Of the eight students, three attend Ahwatukee schools.
They are: Kaitlyn Tetreault, an Akimel A-al Middle School seventh-grader who is setting up a company called Zigns, which will teach sign-language classes; Altadena Middle School student James Yeretzian, whose Comfy Vue company is working on the neck holder for hands-free table or phone use; and Sierra Elementary fifth- grader Max Marshall, 11, whose Drone Vue company would offer low-cost, drone-driven photography and ideography for industries.
Three Marcos de Niza High School students are in the class.
Leah Kewenvoyouma, whose company, Eazeeprint, would provide book lovers with customizable bookmarks and notepads with bookmarks attached to them; Emily Ward, whose company, called Baz, is inventing the gym bags; and Chrg Wear CEO Nick Kenehen is making a shoe that recharges mobile devices with every step.
Olivia Milagro Mabry named her bakery Milagro’s, which would offer gluten-free desserts and “give back to society by donating often,” while Brighton Academy student Najma Davis’ Just Bead It offers mobile jewelry parties
Under Manwaring’s direction, the class works at a rigorous pace, meeting at least once a week to come up with an idea, set goals and write business and financial plans, analyze their market and sales proposition – and, of course, actually implement their plan.
Tucson design studio owner Jim Lienhart was so impressed with the entire YEA! concept that he signed on to provide a host of individualized items – from business cards and stationery to logos and websites – as a result of a partnership struck between YEA! and the Art Institute of Phoenix.
The Art Institute’s Community Arts Resource Exchange is an outreach program that helps nonprofits implement their projects as well as provide experience for the institute’s students.
YEA! seemed a good fit for C.A.R.E., which noted that the academy “helps young people embrace their dreams and change the world.”
Lienhart, who has worked with clients like Coca-Cola and Bristol-Myers on national branding and ad campaigns, was recruited by Gil Mejia, the Art Institute of Phoenix academic affairs dean, to teach classes in Phoenix after a successful run of similar classes at two other art institutes.
Mejia connected Lienhart with Manwaring, and Lienhart was immediately impressed by the YEA! concept.
“This is something I love working on because I know how valuable it is for young people to learn through real-world experience,” he said. “It gives me a chance to experience that good feeling inside to see these students shine.”
So now he’ll help YEA! students “develop their brand identities and marketing materials that they will need to launch their business concepts.”
“When you see a student grow and develop a talent and then use that talent to have a truly rewarding career, it seems more than worthwhile to help them develop,” he added. “Learning about the struggles they had balancing an extra job to make enough money to graduate made me even more empathetic and committed to helping them start a creative career.”
Throughout the 30-week YEA! program, a host of professionals, like Realtor Christie Ellis, the Chamber foundation chair, are working with the students either by conducting classes on various aspects of running a business or on a more intensive basis as mentors.
Manwaring has two other options she needs to fill.
“We are seeking eight local businessmen and woman to be sharks at our 2018 Investor Panel on Tuesday, April 10 at South Mountain Community College Main Campus,” she said.
The panelists donate funds to a collective pool that is distributed to student businesses for the first three to fourth months of start-up expenses. But the students have to earn that investment by making a pitch to the panel, whose members grill them to test their market-readiness.
Each panelist is asked to donate $1,800, although Manwaring stressed “any amount is entertained and we do not turn away folks who have an interest in supporting the YEA! Program.”
Manwaring also needs sponsors willing to contribute between $250 and $5,000 in return for publicity and special events.
“We need to raise $15,000 in sponsorships to support the program this year and to make it available next year,” she explained.
Individuals and businesses interested in helping can contact Manwaring at YEA!Ahwatukee@gmail.com or 480-753-7676.