E CITY offers high schoolers lessons in entrepreneurship that pay dividends

Entrepreneurship isn’t something that is learned through lectures and discussion; it’s learning by doing — and the younger it’s learned, the better. That’s the mantra of E CITY (Entrepreneurship: Connecting, Inspiring and Teaching Youth), a national program hosted here by Youth Opportunities Unlimited that is for at-risk high school students.

“E CITY not only talks about entrepreneurship but it helps teens start a business,” says Carol Rivchun, president of Y.O.U., which empowers youth to succeed in school, in the workplace and in life through several programs. E CITY and Youth Summer Employment Program are its flagship offerings and more than 5,000 students were a part of Y.O.U. last year.

“In E CITY, we are trying to have teens start their own businesses and get experience from it. We find that about 85 percent of the teens in the program complete their business plan. But what we really care about — it is wonderful if they start a business — is we want the teens to gain business skills from this.”

Financial literacy and understanding thus are key objectives of E CITY and to determine if students are reaching those goals, the students take pretests and post-tests.

“We strive for at least a 20 percent increase in knowledge and financial literacy from the pre-test to the post-test. So that means if a student starts the program already knowing a lot, the student will see a 20 percent increase. One who starts knowing very little may increase much more, but on average, there is a 20 percent increase from pretest to post-test.”

Motivation a factor

Along with the experience, the programs offer a promise. If the student stays with the program, there will be a job at the end, Rivchun says. The student is motivated to stay in the program and is also developing employability skills.

E CITY is targeting four high schools in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District — John Adams, John F. Kennedy, Lincoln-West and Glenville. In addition, the program is at Shaw High School in East Cleveland, charter school Horizon Science Academy in Cleveland and Thomas W. Harvey High School in Painesville.

“From those schools, we have at least 15 businesses that have been started last year that are still going on,” Rivchun says. “Once a student has started a business, we connect them with other resources in the community to help them to grow the business, whether it is SBA, or COSE or LaunchHouse or JumpStart.

“The purpose of E CITY is to teach entrepreneurship. But the purpose of all Y.O.U. programs is to connect youth with employment and continuing education, whether that is college, licensing, starting your own business — whatever.”

YOUhandshakeEach year in conjunction with EY, E CITY holds a Young Entrepreneur of the Year Competition. The top E CITY students present their business plans to win cash prizes for their businesses and scholarships. This year’s event will take place May 16.

Last year, Harvey High School student Ryan Hyde won the top prize for his company called Ignited Innovations. Hyde created an environmentally-safe alternative to a fire pit using burner fuel gel and a brass casing in concrete.

Support makes it happen

The success of E CITY and Y.O.U. is due to many volunteers and support from the community, Rivchun says.

“We have many entrepreneurs and other entrepreneurial type people who are very interested in volunteering for E CITY because they believe in the concept,” she says, noting that Paul Moss, CEO of Moss Corp. LLC, is a big fan of E CITY as is Sanjay Garg, chief of the Intelligent Control and Autonomy Branch at NASA Glenn Research Center.

Corporate supporters include such names as Eaton Corp., Wal-Mart, T.J. Maxx, the Cleveland Clinic and other organizations and foundations as well as individuals.

“The reason they do this is because there are very few programs that help teenagers access the world of work,” Rivchun says. “There is a huge skills gap. We need to help the teens target those areas where the future good jobs are — the ones that provide a living wage or better. So that’s why there is a need for an organization like this.

“A lot of businesses would like to help but they don’t know what they can do. What they could do is volunteer for Y.O.U. They could make a donation that would help us, help teens or they could offer a summer job.”

How to reach: E CITY and Youth Opportunities Unlimited, (216) 566-5445 or www.youthopportunities.org