Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal

The Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) Program in the Finger Lakes

For Immediate Release

Contact: Michael Nozzolio


Participants in the CEO Roundtable were: from left to right: Joell Murney-Karsten, Director of Community Outreach for del Lago Resort & Casino; Teresa Angelo, co-owner and Vice President, InHouse Design; former NY State Senator, Chairman of LOCATE FINGER LAKES and Partner at Harris Beach LLC, Michael Nozzolio; LaToya Collins, Program Manager for FLCC, YEA! Program, Jane Sessler-Shaffer, President, Sessler Wrecking Inc.; and Ethan Fogg, Executive Director of the Canandaigua Chamber of Commerce.

Imagine being a middle or high school student and having the opportunity to create your very own, fully functional business – complete with an actual DBA and mentors who are willing to guide you every step of the way in starting your business! That’s exactly what the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) program does for students enrolled in their program. YEA! is a groundbreaking and exciting program that transforms local middle and high school students into real, confident entrepreneurs and business owners.

As the Co-owner of L. M. Sessler Excavating & Wrecking, Inc., a successful demolition firm located in central Finger Lakes, but performing work throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, I can only imagine how much an experience like this, would have enriched my early years in the business. Although I was very fortunate to have been mentored by my father, Vern Sessler, I have no doubt that I would have taken advantage of this opportunity. It’s one of the reasons that I signed on to participate in both the CEO Roundtable and the Investor Panel programs. It’s also an opportunity to give back to my local community. Seeing the entrepreneurial spirit coupled with their determination was quite inspiring to me.

Throughout the year-long program, students in grades 6-12 (ages 11-18) generate business ideas, conduct market research, write their own individual business plans, pitch their product to a panel of investors, and launch their very own companies! It’s a “Shark Tank” for students and in fact, Rachel Zietz, a student athlete who was enrolled in the YEA! program, actually appeared on Shark Tank where she pitched her business, Gladiator Lacrosse. She later sold her invention to Dick’s Sporting Goods and became a millionaire while still in high school! While that may not happen every day, the potential is there for every student to start the business of their dreams and to become a highly successful CEO!

One of the keys to success with the program is the person who is hired to be the Program Manager. The Program Manager works with the students throughout the school year and mentors their development from the very early stages of the program through their graduation in June with a fully functional business. LaToya Collins is the Program Manager for the Finger Lakes Community College (FLCC) YEA! program and she has done a phenomenal job of mentoring the students along the path to future success. Cayuga Community College will have a program this coming 2019-20 school year.

In early February, after the students had identified their business ideas and begun the steps to execute their business plans, a CEO Roundtable was held at the college. Teresa Angelo of InHouse Design, Diana Smith of MRB, Joell Murney-Karsten of del Lago Resort and Casino, Ethan Fogg of the Canandaigua Chamber of Commerce and myself as President and CEO of Sessler Wrecking, participated in this event. It was an opportunity for FLCC YEA! students to ask each CEO questions about our respective businesses and careers. We spent about an hour answering questions from the students. Their questions were intelligent and well prepared. You could tell that each student took the program seriously and they were each determined to succeed. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how their young, creative minds worked and the thought process they utilized to develop their ideas and accomplish their goals.

In March, the students had to present their business plans to individuals who were selected to serve on the Investor Panel. They had to ask the members of the panel for funding to produce their product. Members of the Investor Panel included: Michael Ricco of Leonard’s Express, Matt Horn from MRB, Mike Davis from I.B.E.W., Jerry Goodenough from Heorot Power, Charlie Parkhurst from Lyons National Bank (LNB), and myself. Each student had to prepare their own presentation and speak in front of the Investor Panel in an auditorium filled with other students, friends and family.


Dr. Robert Nye, President of Finger Lakes Community College (left) and former Senator Michael F. Nozzolio (right) with the LOCATE Finger Lakes YEA! 2019 graduates.

At the conclusion of the presentations, the Investor Panel reconvened in a private room to review, score, and determine the financial award for each student. As “investors”, we based our decisions on the following criteria: Their business idea, their overall presentation including a description of their product or services, their marketing plan and ability to identify their target audience, and the strength of their financial projections.

Over $5,000 was awarded to the students in the FLCC YEA! program. Every student received a cash award. First Place of $1,500.00 went to the student who created Holesome Donuts, a delicious vegan, gluten free donut alternative; Second Place of $1,000.00 went to the student who created Peak Gum, a protein-based chewing gum; Third Place of $1000.00 went to RD Gaming, an inclusive gaming format linking like-minded participants. Each of the remaining students received $400.00.

Members of the Investor Panel helped to contribute to the financial awards the students received with special thanks to Bob Schick and Lyons National Bank (LNB) for being the primary investor for the program.

One student from the FLCC YEA! program was selected to compete for college scholarships at the regional semifinals that took place in early May at R.I.T. in Rochester. Students will also have the opportunity to participate in the YEA! Trade Show and graduation later this spring.

The YEA! program is an excellent opportunity for students in middle and high school to gain invaluable, real life business experience that they will carry with them throughout their lives. Imagine still being in school while you own and operate your own successful business!

I strongly encourage all eligible middle and high school students to take the time to learn more about this exciting program by visiting www.yea.usa. Simply type in your zip code to be connected to programs in your area. Applications are now being taken for next fall’s programs which will follow the normal school calendar. Both Cayuga Community College and Finger Lakes Community College will be offering students in grades 6-12 (ages 11-18) the opportunity to participate in the Locate Finger Lakes YEA! program.

Thanks to significant funding from Lyons National Bank (LNB) and LOCATE Finger Lakes, the normal $1,000 tuition fee per student has been fully paid for the 2019-20 academic school year. This ensures that all eligible students have the opportunity to participate, regardless of their financial ability to pay.

I encourage any student with an entrepreneurial spirit to learn more about this exciting initiative!


Jane Sessler-Shaffer is also a member of the
Board of Directors of Locate Finger Lakes.

Sessler Wrecking

1257 State Route 96 N
Waterloo, NY 13165
315-539-3353 or 800-833-3210

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