Chamber seeking ambitious young entrepreneurs for Year 2 of YEA! program

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YEA Instruct Inc: Local YEA! and Cullman High School students Zane Manley, right, and Parker Van Dyke take their turn in front of the video camera shortly after arriving in New York for the Saunders Scholars National Conference & Competition. (Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center)

CULLMAN – The Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) is going places in Year 2 of the local program.

To end Year 1, it literally took a couple of Cullman area students all the way to Rochester, New York for the opportunity to secure scholarships and start-up funds at the 10th Annual Saunders Scholars National Conference & Competition.

As winners of the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center's inaugural YEA! Investor Panel in early April, Cullman High School's Parker Van Dyke and Zane Manley were the pair who earned the all-expenses paid trip to New York to present their student business to an impressive slate of judges and potential investors. Together, the two braved the spotlight and introduced the panel to Instruct Inc, their idea for a website and search engine that connects individuals looking to learn skills or hobbies with those who are qualified to teach them – face to face, not just another how-to video on YouTube.

Though a favorite of several YEA! program directors from across the country, Van Dyke and Manley ultimately didn't crack the finalist cut. Their biggest win, however, came on the way back home to Alabama.

While sitting at the airport with Chamber Director of Entrepreneurship & Education Wesley Smith and chaperone Chris Van Dyke, the Cullman High duo turned to Smith and asked a question that immediately brought a smile to his face, “So, where do we go from here?”

Here were two teenagers, who, for all intents and purposes, were finished with the year-long YEA! program and easily could've chosen to never give Instruct Inc another thought. But instead, they made it known to Smith that they were serious about taking their business idea and turning it into a full-blown business.

That's what YEA! is all about — and those are the type of ambitious students the Chamber is seeking for Year 2 and beyond. More students like Cullman High's Lindsey Lowery, whose scrumptious Pixie Fudge already has her business in the black and primed for more profits as a 2nd Fridays food vendor under the Festhalle the rest of the summer. Or students like Holly Pond's T.J. Fallin, who's taken strides this summer to beef up his Lawn Defenders lawn mowing business.

While the 2017-18 YEA! program was taught as a class at only two area high schools, it's being opened to ALL of them for the upcoming year. Cullman City Schools Superintendent Dr. Susan Patterson and Cullman County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette have both expressed their support and excitement for the new format.

“I truly believe this program could be a game changer for some of our students,” said Barnette.

After several productive talks between the Chamber and YEA! Corporate, a YEA! pilot program unlike any other across the United States has been developed solely for the Cullman area. The class will now be taught once a month for 10 months, similar to the Chamber's longstanding Youth Leadership Cullman County program. Students will meet at the Chamber in the morning and spend the day learning the tools to become a successful entrepreneur.

Over the course of the school year, YEA! students will:

  • Brainstorm business ideas
  • Write business plans
  • Interact with business professionals
  • Pitch their business plans to potential investors (think Shark Tank meets The Apprentice)
  • Legally register their businesses
  • Participate in a YEA! Trade Show
  • Actually launch their own businesses or social movements

There are 22 available spots – enough for each area high school to ideally have two representatives – for the YEA! 2018-19 class. Students must be in grades 10-12 and preferably have access to reliable transportation and a laptop. While YEA! tuition can cost up to $1,000 in some communities, the Chamber has made it completely free for all students in the Cullman area.

YEA! applications are available at the Chamber or can be found online at Deadline to apply is Tuesday, July 31.

For more information on the application process or YEA! program in general, contact Wesley Smith at 256-734-0454 or