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YEP! at UCLA supports young entrepreneurs on their roads to success

Pictured are members of the YEP! at UCLA club. The club offers workshops to high school and middle school students on entrepreneurship. (Courtesy of Audrey Shapiro)

By Amelia Zai

Feb. 26, 2024 7:22 p.m.

This post was updated Feb. 27 at 8:52 p.m.

YEP! at UCLA is committed to fostering the leaders of tomorrow through education and empowerment.

The student-run organization – which hosts chapters at other universities including Brown University, Yale University, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara and the University of New South Wales in Sydney – provides underserved students with a free entrepreneurship curriculum, according to the group’s website. The initiative was established in 2019.

Audrey Shapiro, who studied public policy at Brown University, said she first decided to create the organization after seeing the limited nature of resources at nearby public schools in Providence, Rhode Island.

“I started tutoring at Providence schools and doing volunteer programs, and I was working with high school students,” she said. “Many of my students expressed to me that they wanted to learn about entrepreneurship, but they didn’t currently have entrepreneurship programs accessible to them.”

(Courtesy of Audrey Shapiro)
Pictured are volunteers and participants in a YEP! at UCLA event. (Courtesy of Audrey Shapiro)

Shapiro said working with students interested in entrepreneurship was inspiring because of their creativity. She added that the club aims to provide free after-school programming and connections to college campuses.

Erin Thomas, a third-year political science student, said she co-founded a chapter of the club at UCLA because she saw it as an opportunity to illustrate the beauty of higher education to kids who came from families without a college background.

Ella Perkins, a third-year sociology student and co-founder of YEP! at UCLA, said offering entrepreneurial education to students from underrepresented backgrounds was a key motivation for starting the chapter.

“A huge part of it for me was this aspect of serving students from under-resourced communities and that social justice narrative behind the program,” she said.

YEP! at UCLA launched its first five-week-long incubator last April, where around 15 high school students came to UCLA to learn about the inner workings of entrepreneurship, said Julianne Morris, one of the club’s co-directors.

The program included workshops on finances and marketing, a speaker series where students heard from locally and widely recognized business owners, and a pitch day where participants presented their new ventures to friends and family, said Lanie Brodsky, a third-year sociology student and one of the club’s co-directors.

(Courtesy of Lanie Brodsky)
Pictured are volunteers with participants in the club. (Courtesy of Lanie Brodsky)

YEP! at UCLA will hold its next incubator for seven weeks during spring quarter.

Morris, who is also a third-year human biology and society student, said her favorite part of the volunteering work is getting to see the students’ ideas come to fruition during the incubator sessions.

“(The) most memorable moments, probably where I felt the most proud, is just seeing them go up there and present that overall project that we’ve been working on,” she said. “It’s always super nice to see them get up there and present what they’re passionate about.”

During the pitching process, YEP! focuses on high school participants creating business ideas that directly address the needs of their community, Shapiro said.

“We want all our students to create ventures that are based in their life and things that they need, because it’s really seldom that young people will be able to have the resources to create solutions and turn them into ventures in their community,” she said. “We offer those resources to our students, and I think it really empowers them.”

(Courtesy of Audrey Shapiro)
Pictured are volunteers with the YEP! at UCLA club. (Courtesy of Audrey Shapiro)

The club also offers a one-day program in the fall, which condenses its curriculum into a single day of learning. Thomas said in an emailed statement that being able to deliver their programming in a single day is important because it allows students who cannot participate in the full incubator duration to still experience YEP!’s curriculum.

Brodsky said her favorite memory was seeing the excitement her students had for learning about entrepreneurship.

Morris said she was proud to see what her students created.

“It feels great to be a part of something that’s very different and unique,” Morris said. “It’s just awesome to see them be happy and proud of what they created.”

The YEP! curriculum aims to cultivate practical skills, including financial literacy, problem-solving and active participation in discussions, Perkins said. These skills are often omitted from the public school curriculum but are invaluable to students as they progress through their educational careers and beyond, Thomas added.

Shapiro added that the focus of the program is to help high school students gain the skills they need to succeed in the future.

“We want to grow our students’ confidence, whether it’s in public speaking or in the power of their ideas or in group work,” she said.

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Amelia Zai
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