Entrepreneurial program coming to School District 51

A program that guides middle and high school students through the process of starting their own businesses will be offered at Mesa County School District 51 starting this fall.

Gayle Jagel, founder and chief executive officer of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA) announced plans to bring the program to Mesa County. “We are excited about the expansion and specifically chose School District 51 because of its reputation for academic excellence.”

Steve Schultz, superintendent of the district, said he’s also excited about advancing students’ business educations through the academy. “Our goal is to eventually provide a unique and challenging experience for all students interested in participating.”

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and Western Colorado Community College also are involved in the effort.

Jagel developed the academy in 2004 while serving as director of the office of special programs at the University of Rochester in New York. The Kaufman Foundation provided support.

Four years later, the academy was spun off from the university and a not-for-profit corporation was created to offer the program at universities, colleges and schools across the United States. For the 2011 and 2012 academic year, the program operated in a total of 37 different locations across 17 states and served more than 100 school districts.

The Young Entrepreneurs Academy offers entrepreneurial and leadership training to students ages 11 to 18. Working with educators as well as local business leaders, participants brainstorm ideas, write business plans, pitch proposals to investors, obtain funding, develop branding and ultimately own and operate functioning ventures. Nearly 900 students have graduated from the academy and launched more than 550 enterprises in the process.

“One of the most interesting components of the program is the actual behind-the-scenes knowledge the students are given from local business leaders who were at one time standing in their shoes,” said Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

“The experience is something they will be able to apply to whatever field they choose to enter, thereby giving them the necessary skills to become future leaders of industry,” Schwenke said.

Volunteers from large and small businesses act as mentors, field trip hosts, guest lecturers, graphic designers, web developers and legal advisors.

Jagel said community support is needed to strengthen the program even as the program strengthens the community. “We are urging all local business leaders to become involved with the program and act as mentors to the budding entrepreneurs.”