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Grow the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs


By: Simone Elder
Just imagine, the air crackles with excitement as students set up in the gymnasium. Teenagers nervously hold notecards, rehearsing and reviewing key points as judges huddle together, deliberating about the previous participant’s business idea. Down the hall, another student paces, waiting their turn for the elevator pitch. Weeks of preparation have brought the students and community members together for your annual local Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. Every student has identified a business need in your community, something that energizes them, and paints a vision of a possible future in rural Kansas. Through the E-Community Partnership, your leadership team is offering students cash prizes to implement their idea or further their education, enabling these young people to take action on a positive goal. A local Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge event may be just the key to planting the seeds to grow the next generation of entrepreneurs in your community.

If you haven’t started planning for your local 2016-2017 Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge event yet, there’s still time! Like many of the programs and initiatives that NetWork Kansas supports, we encourage you to be entrepreneurial, but rest assured we have a set of best practices to help you get your event off the ground!

First, engage your school district and business community. If you can get just one teacher excited and willing to support the idea of entrepreneurship education, you’re on your way to a successful event! Even if your school can’t support a full-time business course, a YEC series event is still possible.  We believe in connecting entrepreneurs to the right resources and a focus on youth entrepreneurship is no different. Encourage business leaders in the community to donate an hour of their time to teach students about the key aspects of the executive summary! Ask a young entrepreneur to speak about their target market and how they identified their customers. Invite the local accountant to give the students a quick lesson on financial statements. The more you engage those local resources, the more supported the youth in your community will feel as they pursue their business venture.

Second, offer a variety of prizes! While only the first place winner will be guaranteed a spot in this year’s YEC state championship, other cash prizes that reward creative marketing, rural benefit, or out-of-the-box thinking can reward a variety of students with equally varied strengths. This is another great way to recruit support from local businesses and see if they want to sponsor a specific prize. Remember to take time to recognize the students for their courage, hard work, and creativity. They’ll gain problem solving, team work, and public speaking skills that will reward them in the future just by participating.

Finally, invite non-participating students and the general public to attend a part of the event. This is a great opportunity to pique the interest of future participants. Invite a local or regional entrepreneur to tell their story before the awards presentation to further inspire the students that being an entrepreneur in a rural community is possible and rewarding. Perhaps you choose to celebrate a current E-Community loan recipient’s success story.

Last year nearly 250 students participated in local YEC events in communities across the state. Let’s foster an entrepreneurial spirit in even more students across our state. The more often we support our youth and visibly show our communities what an E-Community looks like, the closer we move to creating a strong entrepreneurial environment. Entrepreneurial culture takes time to grow, so what are you waiting for?