Entrepreneurs on a Mission: The YES! Fund for Youth Entrepreneurship

Published on October 12, 2015 | Written by

Youth Entrepreneurship FundWokie May 2015

As Youthprise gears up for its annual Summit on October 15, 2015, celebrating entrepreneurship, technology, and racial equity, we are excited to announce the establishment of a Youth Entrepreneurship Fund to build the entrepreneurial capacity of young people with awesome ideas but limited access to the capital for implementation. This is especially true for young people of color. The Fund will offer a flexible menu of entrepreneurial options, ranging from robust business planning opportunities for the emerging entrepreneur to funding for the entrepreneur who is ready to launch. In this blog post, we go one on one with our President, Wokie Weah, to learn more about the Youth Entrepreneurship Fund and its connection to the Youthprise mission.

Why a Youth Entrepreneurship Fund and why now?

I have always imagined Youthprise as an entrepreneurial hub and incubator of awesome ideas originating from young people for the creation of a sustainable world. The Change Fellows program, a brainchild of our Youth Innovator Collective, has been one of our most successful ventures. We are also starting to experience traction with our Youth Participatory Action Research Initiative, which functions as an enterprise within Youthprise, significantly expanding our reach to other youth in the community and simultaneously strengthening our revenue stream. As we celebrate our 5th anniversary, the timing seems right to make a bold statement about our belief in the value-add of entrepreneurship – in both for-profit and non-profit settings. For me, the bold statement involved seeding the Fund and calling on others to invest. There were also three coinciding factors that contributed to the timing: youth demand, an intentional organizational focus on equity, and insights from an evaluation of the Change Fellows. And of course the Summit, held in collaboration with the Minnesota History Center, the Sundance Family Foundation, We IMPACT!, the Bush Foundation, Western Bank and the Northwest Area Foundation, all tremendous thought leaders in the entrepreneurship world, creates the perfect platform for the launch.

How Will the Entrepreneurship Fund Work?

Youthprise is seeding the Fund with an initial investment of $25,000 and will seek co-investors who share our interest in supporting young people’s entrepreneurial dreams. We have done an initial design thinking session that is pointing us in a direction of having different access points to meet the entrepreneur where they are. For some young people it could be a small investment in building their entrepreneurial thinking skills by supporting their attendance at a conference, for another it might be purchasing the needed supplies to get them on their way. We see the Fund strengthening the Change Fellows cohort by accelerating the growth of their ideas. And, we are in constant contact with many brilliant entrepreneurs who have a strong value proposition and are only missing the financial or mentoring component to take their initiative to the next level. The ultimate goal will be to grow the Fund to accommodate different entrepreneurial needs but maintain a high focus on ensuring flexibility. The good news is we have a deep bench of leadership at the board, staff and partnership level to help shape the thinking on how we design the Fund. We have been very fortunate to partner with young entrepreneurs and Minnesota natives, Coco and Breezy, who want to give back to their home state, Nexus Global Youth Summit, Juxtaposition Arts, Migizi Communications, The Sundance Family Foundation, Cookie Cart, and many others. But I also get excited about supporting the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders like Keno Evol of Dope Image Clothing, Bianca Dawkins of Project H. O.P. E, Adeeb Missaghi Design, Eithan Fisher who is designing snowboards, Isaiah Crossfield of Isaiah Bikes and others who have helped shape Youthprise’s evolving story.

How does the Fund advance the Youthprise Mission?

Our mission is to champion learning beyond the classroom so that all Minnesota youth thrive. I can think of no better way to advance that mission than to invest directly in building the entrepreneurial skills of our young people and getting them on a pathway to true economic prosperity. We are in the process of updating our theory of change and I see the best way to achieve social impact is to increase access to social emotional learning, economic opportunities, and health and safety for our youth. Building innovation, creativity and problem solving skills – the hallmarks of entrepreneurship – cuts across all of these areas. The Fund will activate the four levers that drive our work: racial equity; leveraging; growing the role of youth, and systems alignment. We believe that the Fund will yield a tremendous return on our investment because we know that established entrepreneurs are interested in providing jobs to young people and reinvesting in their communities. We see this happening with many of the entrepreneurial models we support. The notion of entrepreneurship is very central to the Youthprise investment portfolio, all the way from capacity building investments to Change Fellows to Opportunity Reboot, a new federal grant from the Social Innovation Fund that will help Youthprise build pathways to careers for youth who have been disconnected from school and work.

How can you become a Founding Donor to the YES! Fund?

The Youth Entrepreneurship Fund will be formally announced at the Youthprise Summit on October 15th. I will unveil the name, share the operational framework, and discuss the time frame for implementation. A priority will be to establish the right metrics to measure the impact of the Fund. I also look forward to introducing the Summit’s audience to the young entrepreneurs who inspired the idea for the Fund’s creation. I am confident that there are many others out there who want to fuel the dreams of Minnesota’s young entrepreneurs. If you would like to be one of the founding donors to the YES! Fund, you can make a donation at www.youthprise.org/donate. Please mark in the Designation section on the Donate form that your gift should be directed to the YES! Fund.

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