Rick Osbrink and Shasta College's Youth Entrepreneurship Project
The competition attracted more than 100 high-school-aged teams from 10 counties in the North State, a robust participation that has Rick Osbrink excited. Osbrink, helmsman for YEP, a division of Shasta College’s Business and Entrepreneurship Center, has made it his mission to introduce entrepreneurship as a viable career option to area youth.
“Two years ago, we only had 35 teams. Last year, we had 100 and this year, well over 100,” he says. What this means to him is that schools and kids are embracing the idea that entrepreneurial skills aren’t just for the Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world. “These are broad spectrum skills, life skills. Even if students want to be doctors or corporate business people, they’ll need to know how to how to market themselves.”
Founded six years ago through the California Community College Chancellor’s Office and funded through a Shasta College grant, YEP serves people between ages 14 and 27. Though the program is open to anyone within the age range, Osbrink spends much of his time communicating with high schools to garner participation in the competition and the Extreme Entrepreneur Tour. The Tour, held in October, is a TEDx-type presentation, where under-25-year-old thought leaders and entrepreneurs who have made $1 million in their own endeavors inspire and expose students to the possibilities of taking risks and thinking outside traditional comfort zones.
Between the two events, Osbrink stays busy offering resources, support materials and being available to help teachers bring the entrepreneurial mindset to the kids.
“We’ve got some amazing champions for the program within some of our schools,” Osbrink says, referring to teachers who have grabbed hold of the concept and incorporated it into lesson plans. It’s tough, he says, because teachers have so many pressures and regulations to meet, so it’s difficult to introduce one more thing and expect them to find a place for it. Growth is ongoing and he certainly isn’t grousing about the exponential increases over the past two years. In fact, he is thrilled. “We’ve seen big growth, more than we expected,” he says.
Travis Bassham, economics teacher at Shasta High School and coach to the 2013 winners, makes the YEP competition a class assignment. He appreciates the program because so much about entrepreneurship ties into economic concepts he teaches and it doesn’t take more than one class period to implement. His class watches Shark Tank, a popular business-pitch television program, discusses how to develop and pitch a product, and then he assigns the competition as a project. “The competition gives kids one more opportunity to be celebrated, to be good at something and feel successful.”
Teresa Alexander-Howard, business department chair at Enterprise High School, works through an industry-recognized business plan program with her students as they prepare mini-business plans. “It gives students a real world experience,” she says. Her students attest that the whole process is a giant learning experience.
As school starts up again, so will the early stages of the Elevator Pitch Competition, starting with students dreaming up business concepts, filming YouTube videos and submitting social media plans to promote their products and services. US Bank will once again sponsor the competition, offering cash prizes to finalists, while community leaders adjudicate and narrow submissions. In the spring, five teams will present their concepts to a live audience.
“It’s always fun to see what the kids come up with. We love that they dream big at this stage,” says Osbrink. As for his ultimate goal for the program, “Our best success is that we help move students toward futures of possibility.” •