Last Fall, JA of Lincoln set out to do something entirely new. A pilot program called Driven Youth Invitational was designed that focused totally on entrepreneurship in our changing economy, and it was pitched to local high school students. They would be asked to attend once-a-week evening classes for just over two months, and in return would be given what we considered to be an invaluable experience — the chance to learn step-by-step how to start their own businesses from the ground up. With some of the area’s top entrepreneurs serving as their mentors, they would come up with an idea, conduct market research, and even design their own business plans. It all sounded great to us, but would high school students get real value from the experience?
As far as Tyler Hurley, a student who completed the program, is concerned, DYI could not have been more valuable. He says he signed up because it sounded like a fun learning experience, but what he actually walked away with was even more.
“The skills [I learned] don’t just apply to running a company,” Hurley says. “You don’t even need to have plans to start a business to do DYI, because the skills are applicable in every facet of life, whether it be making yourself more “hire-able” on a job application, learning how to communicate in day-to-day life, and so much more. I think DYI really helped to open up my awareness of not only myself, but what businesses are looking for in an applicant, in addition to what other people are doing and how their actions relate to you.”
Tyler and his group spent their time designing a business that would allow customers to design and buy custom boots. Researching and writing business plans may not be how most of us picture teenagers spending their evenings, but Tyler says it was actually something he found himself looking forward to. “The classes were very fun. We had the opportunity to work one-on-one with local entrepreneurs and hear their advice on whatever that week’s topic may have been. We were able to pair up in groups, and design a business, and learn from Lincoln’s best! I think, outside all of the skills I learned, the best part was the connections we made. One of the speakers actually offered to be a business partner with my team, if we decided to turn our idea into a real business. In addition, I still talk to all the the people on my team, and we are good friends!”
Since completing DYI Tyler has moved on to UNL, where he hopes to study meteorology. Even though he has no immediate plans to start a business, he says the skills he learned are making an impact on his college career — and that he would recommend DYI to other high school students, regardless of their interests. “I think DYI has prepared me greatly for the future… [I was] given a wonderful opportunity to learn from some of the best entrepreneurs in southeast Nebraska, to learn from the mistakes they made, and to benefit from the lessons they learned in their journey to running a successful business… From DYI, I gained tools necessary to succeed in growing a business and in everyday life.”
Thanks to students like Tyler and the wonderful local entrepreneurs who volunteered their time to mentor them, the inaugural session of Driven Youth Initiative was a great success, and plans are in the works to make it an annual opportunity offered by JA of Lincoln. We wish great success to Tyler and our other Driven Youth!