Some industrious Wyoming high school students will receive focused mentorship this fall through a new Impact Wyoming initiative.
Be Entrepreneurial is a free education opportunity that focuses on teaching business planning skills, marketing, finance and ethical decision-making.
The base activities for the program will begin in October, with virtual courses concentrated on business development Oct. 9, 16 and 23, and at the end of the month there will be a local pitch night. Anyone is welcome to sign up, but there will only be 20 spots available.
Be Entrepreneurial is not just a learning opportunity for students in Wyoming, it also will engage communities. On Oct. 28, the local pitch night will feature a panel of judges made up of area business leaders who will pick two business plans to receive startup money.
Each selected student will receive $5,000 in financing, as well as a $2,000 marketing package. The marketing package includes a website, business cards, logo and other resources to get their businesses off the ground. The money for the startup packages comes from grants found by Kelly Eastes, the director of development for Impact Wyoming.
Elissa Ruckle, who founded the overarching Impact organization, said the effort is an investment in Wyoming communities she’s wanted to make for a long time.
“Our greatest export in Wyoming is our youth,” she said. “We’re losing a lot of brain power and brilliance because they don’t feel like they belong in the communities.”
Ruckle said she sees a lack of entrepreneurial opportunities, even for younger adults who are past high school. Her son graduated from the University of Wyoming, and after not being able to find a job within his field of interest in the state, he left.
She wants Be Entrepreneurial to show students that there’s a reason to stay – and it may be through creating a space for themselves. This could be a way to help them be successful and diversify the economy in Wyoming at the same time.
Other young entrepreneurs in the state want to encourage those aspirations in students, as well, which is why the program offers mentorship from local business owners, she said.
Chad Pollock is the head owner and distiller of Backwards Distilling Company and will be part of the mentorship program in next month. He got his start in business at age 22.
He said it was jarring to go from school straight into opening his own business, and advice from other entrepreneurs helped refine his knowledge and understanding of the responsibilities. This pushed him to pay that same kindness forward in any way he can, like mentoring with Impact’s new program.
“I really hope that I can provide some inspiration to young entrepreneurs,” he said.
Brian Deurloo is another mentor who said he's excited to teach more than just the "hard skills."
His background is in environmental engineering, and he started his own environmental technology company, Frog Creek Partners. From his experiences, Deurloo said he wants to show students that becoming an engineer or working in an industrial trade requires often overlooked abilities.
He put an emphasis on "soft skills," like learning how to study, listen and communicate effectively.
“There’s a lot more to being entrepreneurial than just coming up with an idea and building a business around it,” he said. “You’ve got to build a personality and drive, and develop certain characteristics.”
The business leaders will take on the task of teaching local students lessons from their lives – and said they can’t wait to get started.
Impact has two other programs in Laramie, Cheyenne and Casper that focus on professional development. The Wyoming Youth Council and Stand Tall are both options for those who are interested in City Council or leadership courses.