Cultivating the next generation of entrepreneurs



Last month, I served as a judge for one of several “Shark Tank”-style competitions held through the YouthQuest afterschool program.

Students in grades K-12 presented their elevator pitches for everything from slime and stress balls to action figures and customized Snapchat filters. They showed off prototypes, explained their financials and shared marketing plans.

The experience was part of an ongoing process to teach students about entrepreneurship, an important subject for today’s youth – especially those who live in Flint and Genesee County. After all, the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem only continues to grow.

In recent years, Genesee County has welcomed innovative newcomers including C3 3D, an industrial 3-D printing company; Michigan Escape Games, which was one of the first of its kind in Michigan; and Good Boy Clothing, a “shop-to-shelf” streetwear clothing brand. And since Flint’s Ferris Wheel Innovation Center opened in late 2017, about 100 inventors and entrepreneurs have sought assistance through 100K Ideas.

The growth has been exciting to watch. New businesses diversify our economy and create jobs. They also help position the region as a great place to be.

To build on that momentum, the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce is working to engage the next generation of entrepreneurs through YouthQuest. By introducing students to local resources, business concepts and interactive experiences, we’re nurturing attitudes and behaviors that embrace the innovation economy.

At Southwestern Classical Academy, for instance, volunteers from Huntington Bank have been teaching YouthQuest students about different aspects of developing a business plan as part of HOPE Business in a Box Academies. Teens who participate in the site’s pitch competition later this month may be eligible to work with a business mentor from Huntington to further develop their plan and budget.

At YouthQuest’s other sites, students have been fleshing out business ideas while learning about startup costs and profit-sharing. Several participated in pitch competitions in March – including the one I judged – and those with the highest marks will advance to the May 5th YQ, Inc. Business Fair at the Flint Farmers’ Market. There, the student-run businesses will set up shop in the outdoor pavilion and sell their goods to the public.

The need for this kind of programming is evident. According to the most recent Gallup HOPE Index, 40 percent of students want to start a business or invent something that will change the world. However, only 43 percent of schools offered classes covering how to start a business in 2016, down from 50 percent in 2011.

YouthQuest helps fill that void by offering experiential programming that stimulates an entrepreneurial mindset, something that will benefit students whether or not they go on to start their own businesses. That kind of thinking teaches them to be problemsolvers. And that’s a skill that will serve them in business, at school and throughout life.

Kristina Johnston is group vice president at the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce.

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