YBI Prepares to Launch Youth Entrepreneurship Program

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Entrepreneurs ranging in age from 9 to 17 will compose the first cohort of the Youngstown Business Incubator’s new Launchpad initiative when it begins March 16.

The program will kick off with virtual classes, then shift to in-person instruction in April, Stephanie Gilchrist, director of YBI’s women and youth entrepreneurship programs, said. All but one of the 25 participants are from Mahoning County, with the 25th being from Trumbull County.

The 15-week course will cover topics including the entrepreneurial mindset, entrepreneurial skill set, marketing research, legal and finance issues, inventions, business model and the pitch.

“It’s amazing that the need has been sitting here in front of us all this time,” Gilchrist remarked.

Planned instructors and lecturers – many of whom also are involved with the program’s steering committee -– include TaRee Avery, owner of Dough House Cookies; Julius Oliver, founder of Kingly Hand Wash and Wax; Marisa Sergi, co-owner of L’uva Bella Winery and founder of Red Brands; Don Ritenour, owner of YO Fresh; and Brittany Housel-Mendez, vice president of operations at Sherman Creative Promotions.

Such an initiative might have put Housel-Mendez, who previously served as YBI’s director of program management, on a different path, had it been available when she were young, she said.

“I come from a line of entrepreneurs, so I had the mindset from a young age. A program that could have helped me turn my napkin sketch into a real business could have been life changing,” she said.

While a few participants are still trying to discover their niche, several already have ideas for businesses, Gilchrist said. One is interested in creating jewelry, and Gilchrist was wearing a sample of her work, a bracelet. Another is interested in cooking and wants to have her own food truck.

Other participants include a young gamer who wants to start a membership-based gaming lounge and an entrepreneur who wants to create athletic wear.

Launchpad is critical for showing participants that they can turn their ideas into a functioning business and create ownership, wealth and economic impact if they do the research, create relationships and put in the work, Housel-Mendez said.

“The entrepreneurial mindset and critical skills associated go far beyond just starting a business, so at the foundational level it’s really important for us to instill these things in our youth – whether they start a business or not,” she said.

Although Launchpad has yet to hold its first class, Gilchrist and the program’s committee already is formulating plans for future cohorts and programming beyond the 15-week course. Gilchrist said she is waiting for schedules from schools for specific dates but another cohort is planned for fall.

Based on feedback she has received from schools, churches and other youth organizations, she is looking at a more community-based summer program, featuring pop-up entrepreneurship programming. During spring break this year, the program will host a competition involving internet domain names that are being donated to YBI.

“Kids are going to have to create a business around those names and pitch it to us and the community,” she said. She also is working on securing a scholarship that could either be used for the winning business or toward the winning entrepreneur’s education.

Housel-Mendez, who serves in an advisory role for Launchpad, is consulting with Gilchrist and Tanisha Wheeler, YBI’s director of curriculum, on the next phase for the program. That will involve developing scale-up opportunities for the young entrepreneurs.

“We want to take them through the first portion and get them to launch, but we also want to create a space for them to grow and scale their businesses and create wealth, jobs and community impact with their venture,” she said.

“Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone,” she added. It’s not for the faint of heart, and just because you love baking, doesn’t mean you’ll be great at owning a bakery. This program takes youth with real ideas and provides real resources to help them through the launch phase.”

Pictured: Stephanie Gilchrist, director, women and youth entrepreneurship program, Youngstown Business Incubator.