It’s late afternoon and students are huddled at tables discussing how to market their business ideas. These aren’t college students or professionals, but middle and high school students intent on becoming entrepreneurs.
They eventually break into smaller groups and update one another on the current status of their projects and budgets.
These students are developing business plans, learning marketing skills and receiving pitch and public speaking training.
Osman said one of their goals was to get the youth to think that Macon is a place where they can make a living doing what they love.
Nadia Osman meets with these 25 Macon students every Wednesday for three hours in the Mercer Innovation Center. She is the director of the Macon Young Entrepreneurs Academy, a program launched by the Macon Chamber of Commerce.
“[The Macon Chamber of Commerce] has been a long-time supporter of local business,” Osman said. “But they wanted to start focusing on not only recruiting, but retaining business in Macon that was coming from adults, [and now] they want to start the cycle even earlier.”
Osman said one of their goals was to get the youth to think of Macon at a place where they can make a living doing what they love.
The Young Entrepreneur Academy (YEA) started in 2004 at the University of Rochester in New York.
“When they started the program in 2004, their goal was to help students write a business plan, pitch it and then launch it,” Osman said.
The program is now in over 114 cities, and Macon is the first city in the state of Georgia.
“The chamber chose this program instead of trying to reinvent the wheel and create its own curriculum because of the results that it has had in the other communities,” Osman said.
According to the program’s statistics, 100 percent of YEA alumni students graduate high school on time, 99 percent of the YEA students enroll in college and about half of them are underrepresented minorities. YEA students have launched over 3,000 businesses and received thousands of dollars for scholarships.
Program participants are selected through a recruitment and application process, and for Macon, that happened in the summer.
“We hosted informational sessions and we partnered with Spark Macon, [a community innovation center] and the Bibb County School District to spread the word to middle and high school students,” Osman said.
The project is 30 weeks long. During the first 10 weeks, students write their business plans and develop their ideas. During the second ten weeks, they get ready for their Pitch Event, which is the YEA version of “Shark Tank,” a television series designed for entrepreneurs to present their ideas for investments.
The students have different instructors for each major part of the process. Tiffany Tate is the Director of Academic Advising in the Mercer MBA Program and the Big Idea Instructor at the YEA Academy.
“Of course they have great ideas,” Tate said. “But I’m the instructor that says, ‘Let’s go ahead and make a business plan. Let’s make an outline for these awesome ideas and understand the difference between a business plan and a business opportunity.’”
The final 10 weeks of the program take place in the spring, and students will begin launching and working their businesses.
“From there, the sky’s the limit,” Osman said. “We will continue to be there if they have questions for their business or if they choose to go to college, they can come back to the business afterwards.”
Tate said working with the middle and high school students is not that different from working with college students.
“[The younger students] have so many different things that they want to tap into, and this is the age where they are actually discovering which thing they’re great at and which thing they need to work on,” she said.
The top three businesses from this inaugural class will be featured in Macon Magazine and compete nationally for college scholarships.
Tate said even if the students take their pursuits and go nationwide, they still started here in Macon.
“They’re the ones who will be these CEO’s tomorrow, so I’m so excited to see where this program goes,” she said.