More Than Networking: Chamber Program Equips Tomorrow’s Entrepreneurs

While the Chamber is quite busy with the day-to-day bustle of policy debates, ribbon-cuttings and business openings, their members also have an eye on the future.

Last year, the organization launched the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, with a focus on investing in the future workforce and, more practically, teaching middle and high school students “how to make a job, not just take a job,” according to its mission statement.

In the academy’s first year, it enrolled 29 sixth- through 12th-grade students. For its second class that’s underway now, 50 students applied and 24 were chosen. They’re learning to develop business and nonprofit ideas, write a business plan, conduct market research, and fine-tune a short pitch to present their ideas to investors. They’ll give those pitches in April to a panel of local business leaders, as they compete for a share of $5,000 in investor funds and a chance to pitch their idea at the national Saunders Scholars Competition.

Last year’s winner, 12-year-old Salar Riar, also happened to be the inaugural YEA! class’s youngest student. Salar’s newly formed company, Pet Ping, will manufacture a small GPS device that snaps on to a pet’s collar. The device will allow pet owners to track their pets’ location via a smartphone app.

Salar’s parents, Amjad and Farzaneh, said YEA! is grooming young people to think early on about business ideas and giving them the tools to bring them to fruition. “It’s one thing to think of a business idea but it’s another to actually get it up and running,” said Amjad Riar, who started his own business several years ago. “Seeing them give Salar all the pieces required to start a business is extremely exciting to see.”

KC Repage, program manager who oversees Loudoun Chamber’s YEA!, said the academy works well here because the county is full of business leaders who are generous with their time and talents.

“They step up to help every time,” Repage said. “They see that the youth of Loudoun County is the future of Loudoun County, so they want to see them succeed. To have people who will take the time to find kids who have the drive and give them the tools to succeed is what sets us apart from other counties.”

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