Handing the keys over to future business leaders
This summer, West Linn-Wilsonville high school students have a chance to learn how to collaboratively run a mock company as part of the Young Entrepreneur's Business Week (YEBW) — a nonprofit organization that holds summer programs to enable 14- to 18-year-olds to learn about business.
"We give them the basic capabilities to think about starting (to) run and manage businesses," said Jeff Gaus, board chair of YEBW. "Our mission is to educate the next generation of business leaders."
YEBW has five programs — business, marketing, finance, investing and entrepreneur weeks — that are taught at University of Portland, the Oregon State University Corvallis and Cascade campuses and University of Oregon.
The programs vary in level — business week is YEBW's first-year flagship program — and are taught by CEOs from businesses across the country. Students also can experience college life as they reside on campus for the week-long program.
The nonprofit organization began 13 years ago in response to the concern that high school students weren't being properly equipped for careers in business.
"The business community got together and decided to do something about it," Gaus said. "I believe that the strength of the U.S. has everything to do with the strength of our economy; the strength of our economy depends on how well we do business."
Gaus became involved in the program when he saw how deeply it impacted his son when he participated in Business Week 10 years ago.
Gaus said when his wife "sentenced" their 14-year-old son to the program, he was angry about having to participate. But after seven days, Gaus said his son was a completely different person — from the way he dressed to his thought process.
"That didn't stop," Gaus said. "It put him on a track. As a result, I got actively involved. It had such a dramatic influence on him that I wanted to get involved in helping others."
During Business Week, students run a computer business simulation where they manage a company for 12 quarters and create and design a product that is brought to market with a team. Students also attend mock interviews and an etiquette dinner to learn how to interact in a business setting.
Megan Talbert, West Linn resident and freshman at Loyola Marymount University, has participated in YEBW for the last three summers.
She completed business, investing and entrepreneur weeks, and returned last summer as an intern.
"As an intern I taught students during Business Week as they created a company and pitched it to a panel of judges within a week," said Talbert, who plans to volunteer again this summer. "The most memorable part of my YEBW experience was pitching my business idea in the mock Shark Tank competition on the last day of Entrepreneur Week. I remember being so proud of myself and my fellow competitors for creating a product, business plan,and pitch deck in only a week and then presenting it to the entire organization."
Before Talbert participated in the program, she had never considered a career in business. Instead, she was interested in becoming a scientific researcher. Now she wants to be a business leader.
"I am currently pursuing a degree in computer engineering with the goal of starting my own technology company," Talbert said.
Ultimately, this is what Gaus hopes the program will do: help students uncover their interests.
And one of Gaus's goals is to make the program more accessible to all students.
Ten years ago, Business Week comprised of 76 students, who were predominantly male. Last summer, there were about 500 students, roughly 50% of whom were minorities and 40% attending on a scholarship. There was also a dramatic increase in female participation from the start of the program.
"It (this change) was intentionality from the board. One of our sponsors said, 'This is a very important program but we are not going to fund this so rich white boys can go to this campus.' He said, 'You need to go after diversity.'"
Scholarships are economic-based and can fund more than 45% of the cost of the program.
"Some students get a full ride; some get a partial (scholarship)," said Gaus, adding that the board bases the scholarship amount on individual cases. "Our intention is to never turn a student away based on economic need."
Each campus offers a different start time for the programs — June 23 at the OSU Cascade campus is the earliest option — and registration is open through the start date.
Gaus hopes that the program eventually educates close to 2,000 students every summer.
He said there will come a day when societal leadership will change and current leaders will have to hand the keys to institutions over to the next generation.
"YEBW begins the process of getting them ready for that transition," Gaus said. "I get emotional when I see what these students accomplish and when Labor Day rolls around, I take a deep sigh of relief and I have a great hope for the future."
To register and for more information on YEBW, visit https://yebw.org.
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