Networking provides support and connections for youth entrepreneurs and assists local economy

A local entrepreneurship collaborative provides youth with the opportunity to network with other youth and connect with adult mentors who can assist them in the development of their business.

An important part of being a young entrepreneur is building a network. Finding like-minded individuals as both peers and mentors is an important step in building connections to help youth further their businesses and expand their opportunities. According to Chigunta in the 2002 publication, “Youth Entrepreneurship: Meeting the Key Policy Challenges,” young entrepreneurs may be particularly responsive to new economic opportunities and trends. This responsiveness may be the key to promoting the revitalization of the local community.

Chigunta indicates one of the constraints for young entrepreneurs is that young people do not bring experience and contacts to their business. The Youth Entrepreneurship Alliance (YEA) in Delta County, has created a series of networking opportunities called “In the Loop” which give young entrepreneurs the opportunity to begin forming business connections. The “In the Loop” series takes place at local businesses where a business owner/local entrepreneur gives a presentation about his or her business, its development and some of their successes, failures and learning experiences.

Following a business after-hours model, a meal is provided and ample time is allotted for youth to have conversations with each other and connect with adults who can assist them in furthering their business ideas. Through the program, youth share ideas, get feedback, acquire information and troubleshoot solutions to their current problems and barriers. They are exposed to new ideas and methods presented by the spotlighted businesses. Youth also have access to mentors who can assist them in making good business decisions. Connecting with others who are at the same stage in their business development and supportive adults can provide youth with the extra encouragement and wisdom necessary to succeed.

The In the Loop Series was initiated in the fall of 2010. Since its inception, 11 programs have been held. The series has put the spot light on local businesses that include a tattoo shop, a candy factory, an artist’s gallery, a screen printer and many other local businesses. One of the goals of the series is to expose youth to the businesses, products and services available to them locally; it also aims to get them thinking about how they could create a thriving business and remain in the area. Providing networking opportunities is also a high priority.

One hundred and eight surveys have been collected over the course of the program. Approximately one quarter (24 percent) of the respondents indicated that they had connected with at least one other youth. One third (27 percent) of the respondents indicated that they had connected with two to four other youth, and one fifth connected with five or more youth. Approximately one third (27 percent) of the respondents indicated they had connected with at least one adult who could help them; approximately one third connected with two to four adults, and approximately one fifth (18.5 percent) connected with five or more adults.

In the Loop was initiated by the Delta County Youth Entrepreneurship Alliance (YEA), a collaborative partnership between Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Programs, Hannahville Indian Community Youth Services Program, Michigan Works! The Job Force Board and the Escanaba Downtown Development Authority. The YEA focuses on inspiring, engaging and empowering youth to leverage opportunities that generate revenue while adding value to the community.