Youth-focused Entrepreneurship Programs Find Common Ground
Earlier this spring, the Foundation brought together five providers of youth-focused entrepreneurship programs who all received grants from the Fund for Entrepreneurial Growth. “When like-minded organizations come together and have intentional conversations around what’s working for them and where they want to improve, great things can happen,” shared Scott Blackwell, Chief Community Impact Officer with the Community Foundation.
The five youth-serving organizations all provide entrepreneurship programming in various formats to young learners, of different ages and with varying interests. Girls For A Change has an Immersion Lab for a cohort of Black high school girls who are creating a retail business and gaining technical skills with Microsoft certifications and earning an entrepreneurial certificate from a west coast university. They are studying e-commerce, business structures and learning directly from Black women business owners.
The YMCA of Greater Richmond is working with students in upper elementary grades in Richmond Public Schools during the Y’s afterschool program, offering trained facilitators to help the students build an entrepreneurial mindset. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond is working with middle and high schoolers after school in business-related laboratory settings so they can learn skills like food preparation, party planning, photography, landscaping, and property management. Participants receive support and encouragement to develop and present their own business ideas.
The Meadowbrook Academy for the Development of Entrepreneurs (M.A.D.E.) is a specialty school for entrepreneurship in Chesterfield County that partners with the VCU da Vinci Center. Aspiring entrepreneur high school students in the program receive instruction and mentoring. VCU and M.A.D.E. recently held a Shark Tank-style competition where selected students from each grade pitched their business ideas and all received monetary awards to support their plans.
The innovative businesses pitched by the M.A.D.E. students included a gaming business on YouTube that also gives back to charities; a size-inclusive clothing line; fleece-lined, machine-washable pillows with pockets for children to put their toys in; chemical-free moisturizer; custom handmade jackets; a music production company focused on helping kids launch careers; a site to connect people with personalized products for their natural hair; and a chat space for teenagers to obtain free mental health services from trained professionals.
Lastly, the MBL Foundation has worked in Richmond and Petersburg Public schools for the past five years and has served over 1,000 students in the Youth Entrepreneurial Program. The goal of the program is to encourage students to explore business ownership as a potential career path.
“In addition to talking about what makes their programs similar or different, the organizations really found some common ground in discussing the challenges and opportunities in fostering the next generation of entrepreneurs,” Dena Moore, Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Community Foundation, explained. Beyond practical business skills, the group agreed that promoting an entrepreneurial mindset where young people are encouraged to take appropriate risks, research, be creative and have self-confidence is critical to their success. This resilient attitude and thought process can be difficult to teach; one key ingredient to success is mentorship, especially from entrepreneurs that look like them or have a similar background.
Meadowbrook Freshman Kileya Johnson designs fleece-lined, machine-washable pillows with pockets for children to put their toys in and won $1,000 in the business pitch competition.
“When we asked the group what would make them more successful the answer was a resounding ‘more’ – more involvement from parents, more money to fund good ideas, greater access to technology, more programs, more students, and more mentors. In the future, we hope to not only be able to support these organizations through grants, but also by continuing to create a space where they can learn, grow, and connect with one another.” Blackwell added, “After our initial gathering, the leaders of these programs expressed an interest in meeting again, so that they can continue to learn from each other and share best practices.”
More About the Fund for Entrepreneurial Growth
At the end of 2021, the Fund for Entrepreneurial Growth announced $200,000 in its first ever round of grants to eight organizations supporting small business owners, entrepreneurial programming for youth, and opportunities to expand and diversify the start-up incubation and acceleration ecosystem. The Fund is a complement to the Community Foundation's existing workforce and career development strategy to create access to job training, living wage employment opportunities and support systems, as well as business creation opportunities for residents pursuing upward economic mobility and wealth creation. Through pooled funding, the Foundation and its donors can further strengthen, expand and diversify the region's entrepreneurial community so that more individuals can start and grow businesses of their own.
To learn more about how you can support the Fund for Entrepreneurial Growth, or another Giving Together Initiative, please contact your Philanthropic Advisor.