Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal

Young Entrepreneurs Academy Launches 2020-21 Program with Continued Support from LOCATE Finger Lakes

We could all use a little inspiration right now. A dash of innovation. Some dreams that can be realized. The Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) program at Finger Lakes Community College (FLCC) and Cayuga Community College (CCC) is making those dreams a reality for the third year in a row thanks to LOCATE Finger Lakes.

I’m Maureen Ballatori, Founder + CEO of marketing and branding agency 29 Design Studio located in the Finger Lakes. I’ve been involved with the YEA! program a lot over the years. I’ve been involved with YEA! student businesses since 2008, as a graphic designer, business and community mentor and a speaker on the CEO Panel last fall at FLCC. I’m constantly inspired by the entrepreneurial spark these students have. With the 2020-2021 YEA! program starting soon at FLCC and CCC, I interviewed LaToya Collins and Pam Heleen, YEA! Program Managers, to share why they are excited about what’s to come.

YEA! students enjoyed a CEO panel discussion in the Fall of 2019 at FLCC

YEA! students enjoyed a CEO panel discussion in the Fall of 2019 at FLCC. Shown in photo left to right: FLCC YEA! Program Manager, LaToya Collins, SCORE – Greater Rochester Chapter Chair, John J. Diehl, Locate Finger Lakes Chairman, Michael Nozzolio, 29 Design Studio Founder + CEO, Maureen Ballatori, Canandaigua Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Ethan Fogg, MRB Group Director of Business Development, Diana Smith, Economic Development and Planning, Wayne County IDA, Director & CEO, Brian Pincelli.

The Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) is an exciting program that transforms local middle and high school students into real, confident entrepreneurs. Students in grades 6-12 generate business ideas, conduct market research, write business plans, pitch to a panel of investors, and launch their very own companies.

The application deadline for the 2020-2021 year is approaching soon on September 10.

It’s like a Shark Tank for middle schoolers and high schoolers including pitching to investor panels,” says Pam Heleen, Program Manager for the YEA! program at Cayuga Community College (CCC).

“I’m so excited that this year, these students will have enhanced knowledge that will propel them forward,” remarked LaToya Collins, Program Manager for the FLCC YEA! program. “We’ll be able to tap into resources from around the world to work with the YEA! students here.”

A major supporter of the YEA! program, LOCATE Finger Lakes proudly joins YEA!’s search for aspiring young entrepreneurs in the Finger Lakes region. LOCATE Finger Lakes will once again be covering the full cost of tuition for all students accepted into the program.

Cayuga Community College’s inaugural Young Entrepreneurs Academy

Cayuga Community College’s inaugural Young Entrepreneurs Academy saw students launch enterprises selling a variety of products, including mobility equipment, cakes and solar-powered cell phone battery chargers.

What’s New for YEA! 2020-2021?

This year’s YEA! students will experience the program virtually. Collins is excited about the opportunities that the online format will allow for the students. “We’re now able to diversify how community leaders interact with us! By going virtual, we can bring in more mentors, guest speakers, designers, leaders, and other entrepreneurs.”

Because the content will be online and can be recorded, Collins noted that the students will also have the ability to re-watch the sessions month after month and year after year which is something they previously weren’t able to do. “Something that a leader says today, we can keep that information around for a student to access 5 years from now!”

Heleen is also looking forward to the virtual execution of this year’s program. “We are working on some new and pretty cool things like Zoom field trips for the students.” The field trips will include virtual visits to a local attorney’s office to talk about business structures, as well as discussions with accountants and banking professionals at their offices.

We’ll have an entire guest speaker series depending on which part of the program we’re working on. The students will have a resource for not only asking questions in the sessions but the mentors often allow the students to follow up with them afterward to ask questions,” said Heleen. “The guest lecture series has been a great way to get a real-life application for their business.”

Why is the YEA! Program so Important?

If you speak with Collins and Heleen about the YEA! program, you’ll notice that their excitement is palpable. Collins is energized by the enthusiasm of the students. “This program is really fun and exciting! It’s a personalized experience that will be enhanced even more with the virtual component this year.”

Heleen knows how important the YEA! program is for the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Finger Lakes region. “This program is a commitment by LOCATE Finger Lakes to provide the entrepreneurship resources that will support the economic future of Cayuga County. These kids are the future and they need to know that,” said Heleen.

Lyons National Bank (LNB) is a proud sponsor of the YEA program at FLCC and CCC. Bob Schick, Chairman of the Board for LNB stated, “America is all about the entrepreneurial spirit and vision. 65% of all the jobs in the U.S. are created by entrepreneurs who have started and run successful small businesses. Today, more than ever, we owe it to future generations to keep this spirit alive.”

Because of the generous sponsorship of scholarships from LNB and LOCATE Finger Lakes, the regular tuition cost of $1,000 per student for participation in the program has been waived, and every student accepted into the program will attend tuition-free.

The Future of a YEA! Student

The Young Entrepreneurs Academy has successfully mentored students who have appeared on the hit TV show Shark Tank, been featured in the New York Times, USA Today, Good Morning America,, Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes, and more.

Some YEA! graduates even come back to lend a hand to current YEA! students.

One of the YEA! grads that mentors students in Collins’ program at FLCC is Lexie who started the “Young Biz Honchos” podcast where she interviews teen and young adult entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses and overcame challenges to achieve success.

After attending their local YEA! program, one business from each local program will move to the next stage of the competition. At the culmination of the 2019-2020 season, CCC students Alex Church and Johnny Smith of Ez-Carries and FLCC student Brandon Russell of No Touch Flush will compete for scholarship money at the 2020 YEA! Saunders Scholars Semifinals and Finals on Saturday, October 3.

CCC YEA! CEO Roundtable in early 2020

YEA! students Johntae Smith, left, and Alexander Church, center, speak with Certified Public Accountant Richard Ward of Cuddy & Ward following the CCC YEA! CEO Roundtable in early 2020. Smith and Church founded EZ-Carries, which creates products for people with mobility difficulties. Their business was named the top enterprise in CCC’s inaugural YEA! class.

How to Join the FLCC or CCC YEA! Program

Students in grades 6-12 are eligible to apply. The application deadline is September 10. Visit the YEA! website to submit an application. Students do not have to have a business idea to apply. But if they do have an idea, it can be for a nonprofit or for-profit entity.

LOCATE Finger Lakes is proud to be covering the $25 application fee for all students. The promo code to waive the $20 application fee is yea20.

After submitting an application, students will be interviewed about why they want to be involved in YEA!. The students will then be evaluated and up to 24 individuals will be accepted into the program which will run October to March at FLCC and CCC.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting this incredibly exciting program as a mentor. Collins and Heleen are seeking business and community leaders to become mentors in the program. If interested, you can learn more about how you can get involved here.

Up next: Read about Krista Gleason’s mentoring experience in her article Be a YEA! Mentor to Young Entrepreneurs in the Finger Lakes

Maureen Ballatori is a contributor to the LOCATE FINGER LAKES Business Journal. She owns 29 Design Studio, a Finger Lakes-based branding and marketing agency that specializes in food and agriculture. She is also a partner in Metro Collective, a coworking venture with six locations throughout the Greater Rochester and Finger Lakes regions.

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