Young Entrepreneurs Academy
a Clovis Chamber of Commerce program
by Jean Murphy
Article appearing in upcoming Clovis Chamber Lifestyle & Resource Guide, a Town Square Publications, a Division of the Herald Times.
Chandler Warne was only a senior in high school, but this past school year he started his own business, complete with a business plan, state business license and outside funding.
The Buchanan High School graduate is now beta testing and continually improving his business’s innovative software which is a location validation system that allows employers to know where their remotely-working employees actually are on any given day and won’t allow them to “clock in” if they are anywhere other than the site where they are supposed to be working.
Warne was one of 11 local high school students who participated in the inaugural session of the Clovis Chamber of Commerce’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA) program for middle and high school students attending Valley schools. He won the local competition and went on to compete in the regional contest held in Frisco, TX in June.
“It was a great program which taught me how to make a business plan, get a license, get insurance, run a business and even get investors. But my favorite part was to see how interested the Clovis Chamber, business owners, and Clovis community members were in helping all of us succeed and support the launching of our businesses,” he said.
Warne is now a freshman at California Polytechnic at San Luis Obispo where he is majoring in computer science and minoring in business, but he plans to continue with his business, known as “Spot,” officially launching it soon. In order to make a meaningful and lasting impact on the lives of future businesspeople in their community, the Clovis Chamber of Commerce took the huge step of hosting the Young Entrepreneurs Academy last fall.
“In early 2013, YEA! contacted the Clovis Chamber telling us that the United States Chamber had recommended Clovis to be the first California chamber to host the Young Entrepreneurs Academy in the state,” recalled Fran Blackney, Clovis Chamber of Commerce YEA! program manager. “After looking into the program, we had no choice but to get on board with such a valuable course for our local students.”
The Young Entrepreneurs Academy is a ten-year-old non-profit initiative based in Rochester, NY.
“Over the past few years, the Clovis Chamber has focused on working with the younger business owners who will someday be replacing the retiring Baby Boomers,” explained Blackney. “YEA! fit into that mission perfectly.”
“The YEA! program teaches all the ‘hard’ skills needed to run a business including creating a professional, bank-approved business plan, all the necessary registrations with the city and county as well as taxes, insurance and marketing,” she continued. “But the Clovis Chamber takes it one step further with emphasis on ‘performance’ skills. The students hear about the importance of integrity, being known as the ‘good guy,’ critical thinking and communication. They hear about what employers need from good employees and how to interview for a job. Two of the students landed good paying jobs because they followed the advice they learned in YEA!”
It combines a dynamic, proven curriculum using the experiences of local leaders of industry, the community, educators and entrepreneurs with the goal of having each student successfully launch their own business.
“We hope that our YEA! graduates will take what they have learned and turn that into a business of their own, adding to the vitality of the Clovis community as future business leaders,” said Rod Geist, a YEA! instructor and vice president, Clovis Main branch manager for Central Valley Community Bank.
But even if they never actually start a business, the YEA! experience should make these young people better employees because they will understand the blood, sweat and tears involved in starting your own business and they will be better able to empathize with the business owners who employ them.
“Besides raising our two children, this has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done,” said Blackney. “As the program manager, I worked with these students every week after school for seven months. They listened to the instructors, created their professional business plans on their own time and took advantage of all the hard work we put into the program. When tearful parents thank you for changing their child’s life, you know you’ve done something right. “
“I can’t wait to follow these students’ lives and all their successes,” she continued. “They will be the movers and shakers in our society who will lead with good character and integrity. We’re excited for their future.”
As the word has spread about the value of the YEA! program, Blackney said that more students have been contacting the Clovis Chamber to be part of the next class. The community has also stepped up to the challenge. The Clovis Unified School District actively recruits students, the Clovis Community College hosts the classes and many businesses have donated their time and funding to support the class.
“The Clovis Community College Center is partnering with the Chamber’s YEA program because it directly ties into our college Entrepreneurial Program,” explained Deborah Ikeda, President of Clovis Community College Center. “The YEA program is a wonderful opportunity for high school age students to be exposed to the intricacies of taking a great idea and turning it into a successful business. It teaches students that having a great idea is not enough and that to become a successful business, one must develop a great business plan, as well. Students who have been through this program are ready to go into the advanced college Entrepreneurial Program.”
Businesses developed in this initial session ranged from an apparel company that sells uniquely handmade shorts, t-shirts, sweaters and accessories, to a business aimed at educating senior adults on how to use social media, to a business developing a SMART phone case with a thether that keeps it attached to the owner, to a business that makes and markets hand-crocheted scarves and knitted home accessories.
Alex Ewing developed a business called Kids4Innovative Design which will use young people to teach senior adults how to use email as well as social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. His goal is to give older citizens the ability to remain connected with their friends and family members – even when age-related physical or transportation difficulties may limit or prevent them from being as mobile as they once were.
He is currently developing a new website, logo and slogan and hopes to have the business up and running by early next year.
“My experience in YEA! significantly increased my leadership, planning and organizational skills. It also demonstrated to me that it takes a lot of time and effort to start a new business,” Ewing explained. “Most significantly, I learned the importance of doing every aspect of my business the right way by remaining focused and persistent. I am confident that this knowledge will be instrumental in my success as an entrepreneur.”
“The Clovis Chamber of Commerce has made an excellent investment in the future of Clovis by providing this program for teens like me. I look forward to reciprocating by becoming a successful Clovis business owner who will provide jobs for others and actively contribute to my community. For me, it doesn’t get any better than that,” he added.
Abagail Bonjorni sells knitted and crocheted items through her Brave by Design firm. She has also recently opened a second branch of her business which is creating custom videos and online ads for corporations for posting on social media.
“YEA! was invaluable to me. Many teachers in school don’t know what they preach. These were real life business people who even admitted to how they failed so that we would know not to repeat their mistakes,” Bonjorni said. “They taught me things that I will be able to use for the rest of my life and made me so much more mature and confident. It was extremely helpful and I know that even now, I can call up my mentors and ask for advice. We are still in contact.”
One of the successful entrepreneurial professionals who mentored a YEA! student was Ben Bergquam, owner of Ground Force Fitness, a functional fitness company that does personal training and also sells fitness equipment. He has an MBA from Fresno State University is also part of yet another new business venture, California Turf Warehouse.
“I was really impressed with the comprehensive nature of the YEA! program. No single class that I took while getting my MBA offered this much information in one place. It took the students from start to finish with starting a business. I was really impressed,” Bergquam said.
“I was amazed at where these students were in the marketplace. They live in and are connected to the heartbeat of the trends so they are incredibly current and relevant. Here we had a select group of young people who are just waiting to be tapped into when solving real world problems. They see what is coming next — better than any of us who are older. It was exciting,” he added.
Geist taught the middle third of the 30-week after-school class.
“I helped them sharpen their financial statements and projections and prepare their marketing plans. The instructor before me helped them choose a business and formulate their business plan and the one who followed me helped them actually launch the business and prepare for the investor panel where they would make a presentation and ask for funding,” Geist explained.
“Central Valley Community Bank participates in this program because business planning and financial literacy in the community are right up our alley. Lydia Shaw, Executive Vice President at Central Valley Community Bank, participated as well by reviewing business plans, taking part in a panel discussion and judging on the investment panel,” he continued.
Mayor Lynne Ashbeck, who spoke at the YEA! program graduation, was also highly impressed by the pool of entrepreneurial young people who live in Clovis.
“YEA! appears to be the best business incubator for the next generation of Clovis business leaders. The City is firmly behind this effort and, in partnership with the Chamber, are looking for a permanent location in Clovis where these young innovators can encourage and support each other,” Ashbeck said.
“California is a tough place for business and the Central Valley has its own unique challenges. Anything the city can do to encourage our kids to try new things and establish new small businesses here is a win-win for them and for the community,” she explained. “We are committed to our kids and we are committed to growing our Clovis job base and those commitments intersect in the YEA! program.”
Several Valley businesses, individuals and foundations have stepped up to financially support the Chamber’s YEA! program. The Chamber thanks Doing What Matters, North Fresno Rotary Club, Central Valley Community Bank, Nick Maxwell of the Brighton Group, Schneider Electric, the Fresno/Clovis Convention and Visitors Bureau, Ellie Huston and Cheryl Storer.
If you know a student who would like to be involved in YEA, contact Fran Blackney at 559-299-7363 or [email protected].