By: Cate Anderson Issue: Transformation Section: Community
The Story of a Twenty-Year-Old Start-Up
Twenty years ago, eight young people and a community leader came together and decided they needed to create a sustainable solution to address the gang violence that was rampant in Denver’s 1992 “Summer of Violence.” With a loan of $75, borrowed hangers and jerry-rigged equipment, the young people started a screen-printing business run out of a boarded up storefront. Soon, they were inviting their friends to come work in the business. It was urban guerrilla entrepreneurship that would evolve into an organization that has today worked with more than 4,500 young people and invested over $1.4 million in youth wages.
Today, YouthBiz has retired the screen-printing business to focus on programs that develop entrepreneurial, educational and community leadership skills and attitudes among middle- and high school-aged youth. While programs focus on developing diverse skills and character traits, the foundation rests on creating young, enterprising leaders who have great vision for their futures, commitment to their community and the creativity and capacity to make it a reality.
Whereas the role and drive of entrepreneurial thinking in the organization has ebbed and flowed through programs over the past 20 years, it is clear that as they approach the 20-year anniversary, that to move forward as an organization, entrepreneurial vision and approach must be infused through every level of the organization—through programming, staffing, financing and operations. And considering the future, YouthBiz must think and act like a start-up to remain relevant.
Creating Value as an Entrepreneurial Organization
To succeed in the shifting 21st-century economy, adolescents will need skills and attitudes beyond those taught in traditional academic settings. Entrepreneurs have a unique ability to recognize opportunities, assess risk and approach problems with creativity and innovation.
As communities—locally, nationally and globally—face great economic upheaval, it is now, more than ever, vital to develop a new narrative for job creation and innovation with entrepreneurship at the center. As a nonprofit organization, YouthBiz has struggled to define the programs and funding approach because of an economically challenged market.
Seizing a Strategic Opportunity
The youth that come to YouthBiz, as mentioned, are remarkable. They are smart, tenacious, resilient and determined. They strive to own businesses, not just be employed by them. They want to create the solutions to the social challenges facing them and their peers, instead of allowing themselves to be defined by stereotypes and statistics. They don’t want just to be accepted into a college, they want to lead their class in scholarships acquired. That is why in 2012, YouthBiz will undergo a dramatic programmatic overhaul that will take its programming beyond basic skills development into intensive leadership study and youth-led venture launch. By seizing this strategic opportunity, YouthBiz will benefit youth by increasing the scope, scale and sustainability of its services and open the organization up to new revenue streams.
Making an Entrepreneurial Leap in Programming and Culture
Perhaps most central to its organizational success is a shared set of beliefs and values that motivate and inform its actions. Every YouthBiz stakeholder shares a belief that young people are capable of manifesting, and actively pursuing, success for themselves and their community. YouthBiz believes in the power and potential of the youth as social and economic leaders, and it envisions a future where they are the driving force behind the educational, business and community initiatives shaping and improving our neighborhoods.
As such, YouthBiz is committed to its role in creating programs and fostering environments that are efficient and conducive to the exploration and experience of leadership, and that challenge the participants to think and act entrepreneurially. They understand that this spirit cannot live alone in programs, but must live and breathe in every stakeholder—participants, donors, staff and partners.
To learn more about YouthBiz, visit www.youthbiz.org.