YELS Summer Luncheon 2016

Entrepreneurship program completes successful summer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The University of Florida celebrated 56 high school students who completed the four-week Young Entrepreneurs for Leadership and Sustainability (YELS) program during the Awards Lunch Celebration on July 15.

The program is the only one in the United States specifically developed for high school students to learn about entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, leadership, and sustainability. Students take two college-level courses, complete over 60 hours of community service, and participate in a mentor program with local entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, and community leaders.

The YELS program also includes multiple field trips and venture visits. It introduces the students to entrepreneurs and business leaders in the Gainesville community through a speaker series that featured nearly 20 speakers and one seven-person panel featuring local young entrepreneurs.

“We say that YELS is for students who want to learn more about entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, leadership and sustainability,” said Dr. Kristin Joos, founding director of YELS, as part of her work directing the Social Impact & Sustainability Initiative in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center, where she teaches courses on social entrepreneurship to undergraduate and graduate students. “However, YELS is much more than taking dual enrollment classes, doing community service, and participating in evening and weekend activities. It’s an all-consuming experience.

“The students have had the courage to take a risk and open themselves to new experiences, new people, and new ideas over the past four weeks. In doing so, they’ve learned that entrepreneurship is a process and mindset that anyone can practice. I do not believe that young people are the leaders of tomorrow, I think they can be leaders today.”

In just four weeks this summer, the YELS students completed over 4,226 hours of community service in the greater Gainesville area, contributing $99,541 of value into the community. Participants engaged in community service activities with local organizations including the Repurpose Project, YOPP!, Alachua Conservation Trust, Forage Farm, the Cade Museum for Creativity & Invention, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park, Dudley Farms State Park, local farms including Siembra Farm CSA, the Cotton Club Cultural Center & Museum, and Current Problems.

Much of their community service was environmentally focused. The students planted more than 13,000 trees with Alachua Conservation Trust. With a carbon footprint of 23.14 tons, their activities accounted for an offset of the carbon footprint of 130.85 tons. The program ran beyond carbon neutral, with an additional 107.71 tons of carbon offsets created. They also did a creek cleanup with Current Problems and removed more than 974 pounds of trash from our local waterways in one morning.

Earlier this year, YELS was honored with the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE) 2016 Excellence in Entrepreneurship Education – Outstanding Specialty Entrepreneurship Program Award. The award is given to a college or university “that has developed and currently still offers a high quality and innovative program (i.e., compilation or series of courses at either the undergraduate or graduate level), the purpose of which is to educate and train future generations of entrepreneurs in a niche or specialty area.” This is a once-in-a-lifetime award.

The Gainesville City Commission honored YELS by declaring July 7, 2016, as Young Entrepreneurship for Leadership and Sustainability Day. Mayor Lauren Poe thanked the program leaders for devoting their summers “to empowering students to become change makers.”

YELS launched in 2007 and has impacted the lives of 374 students over 10 years.