Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program Helps Kids Develop Their Business Plans

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Grade 12 student Nicole Elie didn’t plan on enrolling in the Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program until her guidance councilor at St. Mary’s College placed her into it.

“I’m glad I was (put into the program), because it was a fun course,” she said.

Elie’s business plan was to start Miles and Smiles Daycare. She said she chose a daycare because she loves children.

“I love working with children.”

She said she’d like to one day see Miles and Smiles Daycare come to fruition.

The AYEP has been at the high school for four years – as long as the program itself has been running.

“(AYEP) is only in 50 schools across Canada,” St. Mary’s teacher Scott Chorney said. “We are privileged to offer it at St. Mary’s College.”

The AYEP is a two-credit business program that’s offered through a foundation called the Martin Family Initiative. Owned by former PM Paul Martin’s family, the foundation offers AYEP, among other programs. The first semester starts in grade 11 – Intro to Entrepreneurship – and the second semester takes place in grade 12  – an E Commerce course. Chorney said that the first semester involves the kids working towards completion of their own business idea, and second semester they get to put it together.

“We walk them through the components of the business plan – a lot of it is through experiential learning in the community,” he explained. “They are exposed very thoroughly to the components of the plan. And then in second semester, they take their plan and they create a website with their plan.”

The AYEP usually encompasses 7-10 students at one time. This allows for more one-on-one mentorship with business partners in the community.

“The program works most effectively with a very small number of students,” Chorney said. “We like to keep that group of students anywhere between a 5 and 8; 10 max.”

Chorney said the faculty involved in the program always encourage their students to take their business plans one step further.

“In Sault Ste. Marie, we have a wonderful opportunity through the Economic Development Corporation where the students can submit their plans and receive funding – grant money – if their plans are accepted,” he said. “We did have one student in the past that did submit his plan and did start his summer company. We encourage our students to do that and it would be a wonderful opportunity if any of these students took that advantage that we have here right in our community.”

He went on to acknowledge some of the challenges they faced in the infancy of the program, such as developing the community partnerships they have now.

“Finding people that could give their time in the community, to either host us on-site at their business through a field trip, or come in and give their time (was challenging).”

“We have many wonderful community partners through our field trips,” he continued. “We have to give a big shout out to the Innovation Centre, to Patti McGonigal and Taylor Trecroce, who have been with our program for the past four years, as mentors. They work with youth in our community, especially the high school students, trying to engage the students in the world of entrepreneurship, and they are key partners with us – they give so much time to St. Mary’s College and the AYEP as true business mentors, where they actually come in and they work with the kids fairly extensively on their plans and making connections within the community, along with Mike and myself, who have very tirelessly built that. So we’re in a really healthy position in our program and a big shout out to the community partners because they help us make the program a really special program.”