Girl flexes her business acumen

Gabi Martinez is a 12-year-old with a dream of helping prevent childhood obesity and providing exercise opportunities for kids her age.

And thanks to the new Young Entrepreneurs Academy starting this fall, she has the opportunity to make a difference.

Also known as YEA!, this yearlong program teaches students in grades six through 12 how to become entrepreneurs and help them start their own business.

“I’m excited to learn the skills to be a successful businessperson,” Gabi said. 

Gabi already has a business idea she plans to pursue — to create a gym for kids and teenagers called the YOUth Zone Fitness Center. She said she thinks that kids should have their own place to work out and that a gym like this could help prevent childhood obesity in the area.

Gabi will start eighth grade at Redlands Middle School this fall and said she is looking forward to starting the program. 

“I just think it’s going to make a really big impact in my life, and in my future, and now. I’m excited,” Gabi said.

Gabi is the first student accepted into the YEA! program, set to begin this fall.

The national program guides students through the process of starting and running a legitimate business or social movement over the course of a full academic year.

“They don’t just graduate with a grade, they graduate with a business that can help them earn money for themselves or for college,” said Diane Schwenke, president and CEO of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

Schwenke decided to bring the program to Grand Junction after hearing about it through the city of Castle Rock’s chamber of commerce. Grand Junction will be only the second city in Colorado to offer the program, Schwenke said.

The local chamber partnered with Colorado Mesa University’s Unconventional Energy Center, Home Loan Insurance, and the Mesa County Workforce Center, as well as worked with the Business Incubator Center and School District 51, to bring the program to Grand Junction, Schwenke said.

“I’m hoping that we can educate and show students that there are ways to obtain funds, there are ways to start your own business and be your own boss,” said Jamie Hamilton, chairman and CEO of Home Loan Insurance.

The 24 students accepted into the program will get practical business experience by working with business mentors, graphic designers to come up with their own logo, and web developers. They’ll give presentations in front of an investor panel.

YEA! classes will begin Sept. 17 and continue through May 20, for three hours weekly. The program follows the school calendar so breaks will coordinate with the school district.

Students will be taught by an instructor, but will listen to guest lecturers, successful entrepreneurs and business mentors as well as go on field trips to a variety of local businesses.

“Once that entrepreneurial spirit is fostered at a young age, it helps create a more successful business person in the future,” Schwenke said.

Schwenke said the chamber is still looking for more volunteers to help with the program as well as a local businessperson to be an instructor for the weekly class on Tuesdays.

It will be a big commitment, she said, as the program lasts 30 weeks.

Schwenke also said they are still looking for businesses to become scholarship partners by donating $1,000.

The program costs $295 per student, she said, and that a $1,000 donation will easily fund three students.

To become a business partner or for more information on how to get involved with YEA!, contact Diane Schwenke at 242-3214.

Applications to be a part of the program will be accepted until June 30.


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