March 21, 2022

Students Who Mean Business

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In order to ensure the prosperity of Louisiana’s business community, the Young Entrepreneurs Academy of Baton Rouge (YEA BR) is actively working to develop high school students in the Baton Rouge area into confident business leaders. With strong engagement from current business leaders, students spend the year launching a business, while learning best practices and practical skills.


“The Young Entrepreneurs Academy is a terrific outlet for young people looking for a pathway into business, offering an opportunity to not only elevate these young people, but also encourage them to start their businesses in Louisiana in an effort to continue elevating our state for future generations,” says Deborah Sternberg, founder and chair of YEA BR.


Recognizing a disconnect between workforce development and education, Deborah was inspired to find a way to close those gaps for young people. After many conversations with local business leaders and colleagues, Deborah collaborated with the national Young Entrepreneurs Academy to launch a Baton Rouge chapter in 2018.


YEA BR is open to high school students from the nine-parish Greater Baton Rouge area and combines a proven national curriculum with the experiences of local business leaders, educators, community members, and entrepreneurs. Through experience-based programming, students are empowered to transform their ideas into enterprises and advance their ambitions.  


This after-school program works to connect the students’ talents and interests to a potential business opportunity. Over the academic year, students create a business plan, develop a company brand, formally file the business with the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office, and then launch their very own start-up.


Each spring, to conclude the program, students participate in a Shark Tank-like investor panel as they seek seed money to expand their businesses. Recently, 19 students pitched their ideas for a chance to win their share of $25,000 to help fund their start-up. Kayla Gibson, a senior at Liberty Magnet High School, was awarded top prize of $5,000 in seed funding for her business, Sweet Benefits, a concept that creates healthy versions of popular sweets by using vegetables and fruits. Additionally, Kayla won the opportunity to compete in the YEA USA National Pitch Competition later this year.


“When I was dealing with anxiety and depression, my doctors told me to eat healthier and start exercising. I combined their recommendations with my desire to be a baker and turned it into a business that could produce healthy snack options that actually taste good,” shares Kayla. “I also plan to ‘bake a difference’ by partnering with other organizations and donating a portion of my profits to obesity research and outreach.”

Partnerships play a key role in helping start-ups get off the ground. Deborah says that collaborative efforts have been paramount to the success of YEA-BR. Together, with Louisiana Economic Development (LED), the LSU E.J. Ourso College of Business, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber (BRAC), and over 100 other businesses and individuals, the Young Entrepreneurs Academy has thrived. Since opening, YEA BR has graduated 79 students and launched over 66 start-ups in Louisiana. And as these participating students learn to develop and run an enterprise, the local and state economy grows and can enjoy future benefits.


The U.S. Small Business Administration notes a surge in new business applications in 2021, resulting in 5.8 million total submissions. Louisiana accounted for 107,292 applications, the 16th highest among states. That’s 2,308 applications for every 100,000 people in Louisiana, much higher than the national average. LED confirms these figures and anticipates an economic expansion that will be accompanied by a significant demand for skilled workers. To capitalize on these opportunities, not only are economic strategies needed, but also entities willing to play a leadership role in their development. YEA BR is doing just that and is proud help develop this growth.


“The Young Entrepreneurs Academy takes students out of the classroom, providing hands on learning opportunities where they can better understand business. And if they decide not to be an entrepreneur, that’s ok,” says Deborah. “They’ll still have the skills to be excellent employees, and that’s what Louisiana needs.”
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