When he was just 15 years old, Mark Stagen opened a business – a comic book store. “Back then,” he says, “comics were not what they are today. They were not cool.” But this experience sparked a love of business and even made him a better student. “I think it kept me out of trouble. I was always in school or working. It took up a lot of the time I would have spent screwing around.”
Today, Stagen hasn’t lost his entrepreneurial spark as the CEO of Emerald Health Services, a healthcare staffing firm. But what really gets him excited is creating future entrepreneurs and working professionals through his non-profit, Youth Business Alliance.
The idea for YBA came from his own experience as an entrepreneurial kid, but also from his work with children’s philanthropies. From there Stagen’s “can’t not do” was born. “I thought how can I combine my two passions: kids and entrepreneurship?”
Stagen started with the basic premise to teach students growing up in cities and urban areas about business and leadership. But Stagen knew they needed to hear from more than just him; students needed to see professionals in large numbers. So he paired each YBA after-school group with 30-35 professionals – one per week – to talk about their education, career path, and current profession. Today the program is in 14 schools, with 20-25 kids per school.
And the students are committed, having to complete an application process to be accepted. “They all have good grades,” says Stagen, “these are the top kids in the school.” The impact of YBA is discernible on YBA’s pre- and post- surveys with all students showing an increase in knowledge about what it means to be professional, what it takes to start a company, and their knowledge of companies. But to Stagen the impact is obvious, “It’s just common sense that if you expose kids, motivate them, and inspire them they will be changed for the better.”
The YBA program has become so popular that it has a number of schools where they have had to turn away applicants due to space constraints.
Two big steps are on the horizon for YBA: an internship program and expansion to more schools in more states. The internship program will deepen the experience for the students, allowing them to get actual hands on experience at a company.
If you are interested in helping YBA, Stagen say the two most helpful ways to get involved are:
- Get in touch to be a guest speaker
- Provide a YBA student with an internship
Adds Stagen, “You can give money but we’d rather have you employ a kid in an internship.” Whatever your choice, you can learn more at: www.youthbizalliance.com