Entrepreneurship and youth retention go hand-in-hand as much research would prove. Well it has all led to an Innovation Centre program that started back in May 2015 and is steamrolling its way to keeping our youth in Sault Ste. Marie.
Ashlee Gerard, youth outreach officer in charge of entrepreneurship for kindergarteners through to Grade 12 at the Innovation Centre, is working with a team including Taylor Trecroce, youth entrepreneurship coordinator in charge of business services and incubation, and Heather Lewis, entrepreneurship coordinator working with Sault College and Algoma University have being reaching our youth in the Sault and giving them a reason to stay.
“A lot of what I do is highlighting the potential that Sault Ste. Marie and northern Ontario has,” said Gerard, naming lower costs of living and great natural resources as some.
The program “is youth driven,” she said.
She asks her clients “what is lacking in Sault Ste. Marie and what do they want to see here.”
So the clients, ranging in ages from kindergarteners to 35-years-old, are given the opportunity to make a decision in their future.
It instills a social responsibility, as she says.
“There’s so much potential here,” says Gerard. “Although we are behind in some ways here, entrepreneurship culture is there and it’s growing.”
Even Gerard herself said she was suprized at the amount of opportunity here, which she became aware of when learning her job.
One of the main focuses is the YouLaunch program.
“Entrepreneurship is one of the leading factors in youth retention,” she said.
YouLaunch will enable aspiring young entrepreneurs to start or grow successful businesses by providing connections to business development resources, mentors, networking events, funding opportunities and other support services in the Sault and Area.
YouLaunch will connect teachers, students and adult allies to the tools and resources needed to spark innovative and entrepreneurial interest and attitudes in the community.
“It’s about the teachers being cognizant about youth retention, and entrepreneurship in regards to youth retention,” Gerard said. “It gives students so much confidence.” Even in grades as young as 6-8.
Two students even did their orals on entrepreneurship this year after Gerard met with a class.
She has worked personally with St. Francis French Immersion, Holy Cross, St. Mary’s French Immersion, Rosedale, Korah Intermediate and High School, St. Mary’s College, White Pines and Superior Heights.
“If they are not exposed to it, there is not an opportunity to elaborate on what they know,” said Gerard.
Check out these websites and contact Ashlee to book a group or class. 705-942-7927 ext. 3174
The youth entrepreneurship program, through the Innovation Centre started back in May 2015 and “I’ve been busy,” said Gerard, reaching already 1,500 students.