Year two of #YEP underway at Austin-East, Fulton High Schools

YEPBy Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

After an abbreviated pilot year for the Young Entrepreneurs Program or #YEP, plans for the upcoming academic year call for a significant expansion on several fronts.

The initiative, targeting students at Austin-East and Fulton High Schools, will be expanded to include sophomores in addition to juniors and seniors, according to Paul Sponcia of The IT Company, one of the program’s champions.

Sponcia and his wife, Alexa, are champions of Live.Love.Hope, the not-for-profit organization they have established with a truly inspiring mission: “Creating organized communities of hope around the world.” We profiled their goals in this post a few months ago.

Live.Love.Hope was one of the winners of a grant under Launch Tennessee’s Creative Communities Initiative and will use the funding to help expand and improve #YEP. Ironically, the majority of the 13 recipients of the LaunchTN grants, announced in late July, were East Tennessee-based.

With the addition of another grade, Sponcia said one of the modifications for 2016-17 calls for the sophomores and juniors to support the seniors with the latter making the business pitches at the end of the school year.

Other changes include implementing many of the concepts utilized by start-up accelerators such as market research, interaction with potential customers, and more mentoring. In addition, the high school students will attend weekly educational sessions during the “Spring 2017 Vol Court” program hosted by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Tennessee.

“We’re building #YEP in such a way that it could be taken to other Knox County schools,” Sponcia says.

The plan for the 2016-17 school year involves significant market research during the fall, requiring the participating students to assess needs within a three-mile radius of their school.

“What is needed; where do we have an excess of business,” Sponcia says of the concept.

The research will be undertaken as part on an eight-week educational component that will start with a session on how to conduct market research, involve a mid-process assessment of progress by the students, and end with a review of the final set of ideas.

“We need volunteers to help the students understand how to develop and conduct a market research plan,” Sponcia said. There is also a need for mentors throughout the year-long effort, particularly as students refine their ideas into solid business plans.

“We’re trying to encourage interactions with professionals and students . . . relationships they would never have otherwise,” he added. This includes sessions away from the schools in the spring that will also include some job shadowing.

“We’re always interested in mentors and judges, particularly team-oriented mentors,” Sponcia said.

Those interested in helping should contact Sponcia at

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