Published on 03/31/11

Young entrepreneurs gain upper hand from Extension

By April Reese Sorrow

Kimberly Taylor believes students don’t have to work for other people. They can use their skills to create their own businesses and opportunities to employ others.

The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension 4-H agent in Cobb County says she’s always been creative. She likes to draw or make jewelry, and even spent the weekend making a mattress for a bedbug demonstration.

“I knew I was not the only person like this and wanted to give options and opportunities to our students,” she said. “I want these students to know you don’t have to be an employee; you can be an employer.”

Taylor says students can learn to take their interests and become entrepreneurs. To help, she started the Empowering Young Entrepreneurs Leadership Academy at South Cobb High School in 2010. The E.Y.E. Academy is designed to invigorate youths to become business leaders and develop their skills for future success.

Ashley Hosey, a former Georgia 4-H'er and Georgia 4-H Extension Leadership System Advisory Board member, became the principle of South Cobb High School along the same time the school introduced a new course called Entrepreneurial Ventures 101. Taylor teamed up with Steven Yates from the Edge Connection at Kennesaw State University to teach the 16-week course on business development.

“South Cobb High School needed help with a business class, and I needed an invested audience,” she explained. “It was meant to be.”

Lori Purcell Bledsoe has found the best teaching method is to provide hands-on learning. “It also meets the students where they are and at their interest level, which will help them remain interested,” said Bledsoe, the 4-H program development coordinator for UGA Extension’s Northwest District.

Students enrolled in the course develop a business plan with a mission, objectives and strategies. They learn marketing strategies and tactics and produce a flyer, brochure and business card. Environmentally friendly business practices are also taught. Topics like elevator speech and dressing for success prepare students for future business encounters.

“By providing these educational resources and hands-on field experiences, students can turn potential talents into profitable businesses,” Taylor said. “This experience educates them in becoming financially aware, prepared and equipped to manage real-world financial issues.”

Taylor wants students to embrace the fact that they can own businesses and create organizations. “These students realize their talents offer them opportunities, but they need to stay in school and follow through with business classes or vocational training to complete their vision.”

Nearly 1,200 Cobb County high school students dropped out in 2008-2009, according to the Georgia County Guide. Taylor hopes classes like hers will help keep students in school.

Guest speakers, like Marvin Ellison, executive vice-president for Home Depot, share their stories with the class. He told the students about business management. David Hankerson, Cobb County manager, talked about turning a business plan into a life plan. “The kids listen to their stories and relate to what they are sharing,” Taylor said. “I think it helps inspire them and keep them focused.”

Students earn a certificate of completion and peers select one student as the one who benefited most from the academy. This student is given the opportunity to take business classes at Kennesaw State University and is offered internship opportunities.

Bledsoe said, “this program fits perfectly into the mission of Georgia 4-H which is ‘to assist youth in acquiring knowledge, developing life skills, and forming attitudes that will enable them to become self-directing, productive and contributing members of society’.”

For information on Georgia 4-H programs in your area, contact your local Extension agent at 1-800-ASK-UGA1.

April R. Sorrow is a science writer with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.

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