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Young Entrepreneurs: Inspiring Young Minds for Great Futures

Eric Curts

This post originally appeared in the Battelle for Kids Learning Hub.

The 12-county area that spans northeast to southeast Ohio along the Appalachian rim carries a rich history of entrepreneurs—from Rufus Putnam, who led the expedition to Ohio’s first settlement in Marietta, to Colonel Ebenezer Zane, who built Zane’s Trace, a major early road through the Northwest Territory, to John D. Rockefeller, who founded Standard Oil in northeast Ohio in 1870. Today, a consortium of 31 education, community, and business partners is working to build on this entrepreneurial past to inspire future generations of entrepreneurs to transform the region’s economy. 

Like many parts of the country, eastern Ohio has faced challenges with unemployment—10 of the 12 counties in the region have a higher unemployment rate than Ohio’s average—degree attainment, and “brain drain,” as talented young people leave for jobs elsewhere. According to State Impact, the rate at which college graduates leave the state for jobs is higher in northeast and southeast Ohio than the national average.

To address these challenges, the Young Entrepreneurs Consortium (YEC) was formed as an innovative model for community engagement and increasing the flow of young entrepreneurs in the state. The YEC is comprised of 12 school districts, three career and technical centers, four higher education partners, and 12 business/community partners, serving more than 26,500 students—equal to the fourth largest school district in Ohio. Funded through a grant from Ohio’s Straight A Fund, the consortium’s goal is to increase student achievement and encourage and nurture important life skills associated with an entrepreneurial mindset—collaboration, communication, problem-solving, creativity, and self-discipline.

“The Young Entrepreneurs Consortium has provided local businesses the structure and means to collaborate with community youth in a mentorship, educational, and collaborative fashion…The project forces everyone to reassess how students prepare for their future.” 

—Patty Main, Curriculum Director, Sandy Valley Local Schools

In high school, students will participate in dual enrollment courses, allowing them to receive high school and college credit concurrently. Through a customized entrepreneurship program at Stark State College, students can complete as many as 68 hours in the Entrepreneurship Pathway and attain an associate degree (through grade 14). In addition, students have access to work-based or experiential learning opportunities through business partnerships, Junior Achievement of Ohio, Believe in Ohio. An entrepreneurship summer camp, hosted by Marietta College, is also available to students. 

An important component of the YEC is the partnership with higher education institutions to coordinate the credentialing of educators to teach dual enrollment courses to students. In partnership with the University of Akron and Kent State University, the YEC has built programs that offer accessible online master’s degree programs in its priority content areas of English, mathematics, and business. The 15 districts in the consortium will share teachers by leveraging an enhanced technological infrastructure with more bandwidth, better services, and smarter devices that support a digital, blended, and online interactive curriculum. 

“It is impressive to walk into classrooms and see total interaction and engagement. The technology has also supported the problem-based learning units and has enhanced the learning outcomes.”

—Holly Mastrine, Southeast Local Schools

In the first year of implementation, the YEC has already seen a significant impact on students and educators, including: 

  • A 55 percent projected increase in dual enrollment participation from the 2014–2015 to 2015–2016 school year, which will result in significant tuition cost savings for students and their families.
  • The creation of 21st century classrooms in 15 districts that include makerspaces, 1-to-1 technology, mobile labs, and flexible space learning labs.
  • More than 2,000 students participated in work-based learning experiences, including apprenticeships, internships, mentoring, and job shadowing.
  • Teachers created 60 new, cross-content problem-based learning units.
  • Recruited 35 teachers to participate in dual enrollment credentialing programs in English, math, and business.