LOCAL

Ascension Parish trio learns entrepreneurship

Staff Report
Miah Brown, a senior at St. Amant High School; Lilian Tepper, a junior at Dutchtown High School; and Jayla Walker, a senior at Donaldsonville High School were selected from a pool of applicants in the greater Baton Rouge area.

Three students from Ascension Parish Public Schools were enrolled in a competitive program known as the Young Entrepreneurs Academy of Baton Rouge, or YEA BR.

Miah Brown, a senior at St. Amant High School; Lilian Tepper, a junior at Dutchtown High School; and Jayla Walker, a senior at Donaldsonville High School were selected from a pool of applicants in the greater Baton Rouge area.

YEA BR was launched a little over five years ago by Founder and Chair Deborah Sternberg, who was born and raised in Baton Rouge.

“Now that we’re in year five, we’ve had over 100 students go through this program,” Sternberg said. “And with the current class launching 19 companies, 85 startups will have launched with the Secretary of State’s Office by next April.”

Students participating in YEA BR may differ in their individual passions and goals, but they all share one common interest –– starting a business.

“We’re looking for students who have curiosity and innovative thinking,” Sternberg said. “They don’t necessarily have to have a business idea when they apply, but they know that during the academic year they will be not only launching a startup but filing it with the Secretary of State’s office and pitching it for actual seed funding at a 'Shark Tank'-like community pitch that we have.”

THE CURRICULUM

The program follows a national curriculum, which is broken up into trimesters. For the first nine weeks, they work with the instructor who’s an entrepreneur at LSU. It’s called “The Big Idea” –– figuring out what business they are interested in launching and matching their interests to a problem they see in the community and coming up with that business idea.

The students are currently in the second nine weeks. They are being paired with a professional graphic designer from the community who works with them on a brand for their startup. Each business is also paired up with business mentors and financial mentors, who work with them over six class periods to fine-tune and flesh out an actual business plan.

“Part of it is the mentoring process,” Executive Director Bethany Robicheaux said. “We match mentors as much as we are able to who may have experience in these areas to guide them in the process, which is really special beyond this.”

“Once the business plans are done at the beginning of February, we’re gearing up with presentation skills and public speaking opportunities so that the students are ready to pitch in front of a couple hundred people at the community pitch on March 8,” Sternberg said.

They work on slide decks and their presentation for several weeks. Every week they get a guest speaker to teach them about things like taxes, intellectual property, public speaking and banking. They’re essentially building a foundation in business fundamentals that they can use for the rest of their lives.

“It really sets them apart,” Sternberg said. “Not everyone will ultimately be an entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur myself, it’s very hard. If you go through this program and ultimately decide that starting and launching and continuing a business is not for me, that’s totally fine. They are going to be amazing employees because they understand the fundamentals of a business –– why the owner of the business will ask for a marketing budget, what a PNL is, the importance of gratitude and curiosity, being able to stand on their own two feet and speak for themselves in a polite and smart way –– so, they’re a huge asset to companies, as well.”

When they graduate in April, students not only get a certificate in entrepreneurship, but they’re also qualified for three credits from LSU’s business school if they decide to attend college there.

“We’re not only a year-long program, but there are opportunities after they graduate to engage with the speakers and other opportunities as graduates of YEA,” Sternberg said. “We’re building a pipeline of businesspeople in Louisiana.”

ASCENSION'S STUDENT ENTREPRENEURS

It’s important not to give away everything about the businesses that the three Ascension students are starting because they will make a detailed pitch at the end of the session. Here is a high-level overview:

• Miah Brown of St. Amant High School is in a partnership with another student. They are creating a new type of vending machine. Part of their focus is on convenience. "YEA BR has been an excellent educational experience. It has taught me how businesses are developed from conception to launch. I am working on a product to help make college life safer and more convenient," Brown said. "One great aspect of the program is that you can build your business alone or in partnership. I am working in a partnership, and my partner and I are excited about this new venture's possibilities."

• Lilian Tepper of Dutchtown High School is working on an app to bring together those who have special needs with other students for playdates. It may also feature a roundup of sensory-sensitive events. "Through my Young Entrepreneurs Academy of Baton Rouge journey, I have found so many lessons to use in a business setting and socially. For example, I am learning how to be most effective in getting a point across and how to approach business finances - things I had not considered before. I have made new friends and gotten involved in addressing the needs of the community around me. The problems I saw as most significant are the issues between kids with special needs and their involvement in the community. My business goal is to bridge that gap and inform families of opportunities around them," said Tepper. "I am very grateful for the ability to partake in such an organization that offers me the chance to get help from some amazing individuals. I look forward to sharing my progress and cannot wait for what the future holds for my business."

• Jayla Walker of Donaldsonville High School is creating and launching a new hair product. This has a chemistry element. "Being a part of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy of Baton Rouge has truly been an amazing experience over the past few months. Participating in the Academy has taught me the ins and outs of creating and managing a successful business. The best part has been learning to take a talent I have and turn it into a profitable venture. I am looking forward to launching my business using the wealth of information I have learned from this program," Walker said.

“These students are great examples of seeing a need in the community and being creative in their thinking,” Sternberg said.

Seventeen students have been accepted from the public school system in Ascension Parish over the five years of the academy.

“It’s tremendous,” Sternberg said. “We are thrilled with our partnership and want to continue building with the public schools in Ascension. It’s really amazing the transformation of a student who is hesitant to speak in front of 20 people at the beginning of orientation, to become able to stand up and pitch and answer questions on the fly in front of 200 people in March.”

YEA BR is open to eighth- through 12th-grade students in the nine-parish Greater Baton Rouge Area. Students from public, private, charter, and homeschooled apply for the academy. Classes are held from 5 to 8 p.m. every Wednesday at the LSU Business Education Complex at the College of Business at LSU.

One of the most important things for an applicant is that they’re able to stay committed, since they spend about 100 hours on top of high school engaged in the program.

The application period for next year is open now, and the application deadline is in August. For more information and to apply, visit www.yeabr.org.

Gonzales Weekly Citizen and Donaldsonville Chief, part of the USA Today Network of Louisiana, cover Ascension Parish and the greater Baton Rouge area. Follow at facebook.com/WeeklyCitizen and facebook.com/DonaldsonvilleChief.