It’s 6 p.m. and eight kids living in public housing are sitting around a table, listening to a teacher, taking notes.
These kids might be discredited or underestimated by some. But they give up their Monday nights to learn how to become young entrepreneurs.
The Young Entrepreneurs Succeed program for teens through the Gainesville Housing Authority works to empower at-risk teens to envision and develop their own business ideas.
“They are learning the characteristics of an entrepreneur,” said program coordinator Jananne Waller. “They’ve been working on developing a pitch and learning those characteristics — being passionate, having a need to fill. It has to be more than just a dream.”
The YES! program connects the students to local business owners and entrepreneurs by bringing in speakers almost every week.
“We have highlighted a different local restaurant every class,” Waller said. “So they’ve gotten a taste of the area, and in most cases they get to hear about that business and how it got started.”
The course meets each Monday, for 12 weeks in the fall and another 12 weeks in the spring. It prepares students with business principles, then asks them to come up with their own original ideas.
“We’ve studied products, services and businesses, those three areas of being an entrepreneur,” Waller said.
During each class period, they watch videos from the television show “Shark Tank,” and other business-minded videos, to give the students inspiration.
“We saw a girl who started a suicide prevention hotline and website,” Waller said. “There was also a cooking class or club that benefited cancer.”
Some students were inspired by the creators of Loliware, edible cups made of seaweed, natural sweeteners and flavors from fruits and vegetables.
Student Ingrid Andrade had an idea to find a way to get food to people who run out of food stamps. Her classmate Kimberly Turcios said she wanted to do something “passionate.”
Monday, Waller asked the students to give her three businesses, services or products they would like to create and market.
The goal is for the students to narrow it down to one they are passionate about.
Waller said the class is based on the Junior Achievement model, JA It’s My Business! At the end of the course, the students will have created a business model, marketing tools including business cards, and they will present their ideas in a “Shark Tank” setting to a committee or local entrepreneurs.
The YES! program launched in September, but Waller has been working with many of these students for years in other housing programs.
“I’ve been with some of them for years, so I see the fruit,” she said. “YES! is new, but we’re developing it as we go and using that Junior Achievement model as a springboard. We’re going a little deeper.”
This week, Waller used a Myers Briggs personality evaluation with the students to determine important traits they could use in the business world and throughout their lives.
She posed scenarios to students and asked them to identify in they were “thinking or feeling,” or “judging or perceiving.”
“Be honest with yourselves on this,” she told the students. “The world needs both types.”
Originally, it was her plan to have the students make their presentations at the end of December. But now, she wants them to take their time developing their ideas.
“They need to really know themselves before they get into this huge project about a business or product,” she said. “That’s what I really want for them.”