The Maker Space is about tinkering, building, creating, designing, but what’s the next step? According to Jerry Cozewith, the Executive Director of Entrepreneuring Youth (EY), a non-profit located in Pittsburgh, Pennsyvania, the next step is taking the creativity and innovation of the Maker Space into the world of student run-businesses.
One of the great success stories for EY is Shawn, a former Manchester Academic Charter School (MACS) student who started out as a shy young man who would not even look at you in the face. Shawn was a middle school student in the iOWN program, an entrepreneurial program coordinated by EY at MACS. Jerry tells the story about first meeting Shawn and his handshake was limp and his voice was almost inaudible. Today Shawn is a high school entrepreneur with his own bakery business. He had an interest in baking. EY gave him the supports and experiences to turn that interest into a passion that was not just about making food, but creating a system to have a business that turned a profit within two years. When you meet Shawn today he shakes your hand with a firm grip and tells you why you should purchase his pastries.
Jerry sees MACS as one of the best examples of how EY grows young people, taking them from where they are and giving them the confidence and chutzpuh to say, “Can you help me?” It’s that ability to realize that you need a mentor, a guide, that really separates the kids in EY from their peers. The talent to ask good questions leads to innovative solutions.
According to the Entrepreneuring Youth website: “We help young people start and operate businesses as a way to guide them toward their own path to success after high school. When young people run businesses of their own creation, they bloom with newfound confidence. They discover talents which were once hidden. They think of themselves as “owners” and “presidents.” Young people who become young entrepreneurs realize the value of creating (rather than waiting) for opportunities.”
According to one of the young entrepreneurs featured in a promotional video, EY gave her a voice. “… I could stand up before all of these people and say things that were on mind.”
Jerry focuses on the concept of “self-efficacy” as the key for success. It’s about empowering youth. It’s not just that kids learn the value of owning a business; it’s more about the growth of young men and women who have the tools and awareness that will make them successful wherever they travel or seek to make their imprint.
Today EY is creating success stories throughout the Pittsburgh region with a focus on the under-privileged, the under-served youth. Jerry shared a story about a recent event EY sponsored at Oxford Center. Initially there were only four parents signed up from the Hilltop project where EY partners with the YMCA. Jerry investigated and discovered that the parents did not have transportation and didn’t know how to travel to the Downtown destination. EY then rented a bus and over 75 adults came down from the “mountain” to see the world of Downtown youth commerce. EY empowered the parents to become supporters for their young entrepreneurs.
According to Jerry when you first looked at the display at Oxford Center it appeared to be a typical array of goods, but when you met the young people behind each business, you realized that there was something special happening. You knew that these young people have taken the first steps to success in the adult world. They knew how to communicate, how to sell themselves. They had confidence in themselves.
It’s the reason why we need more events like Startup Weekend EDU Pittsburgh. We need to breed that entrepreneurial spirit where young people learn to network and pitch their ideas, to take risks, and learn by their initial mistakes and failures so they discern the value of the iterative process inherent in all “making” activities.