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This fall, the Charles County Chamber of Commerce is launching a program that will benefit young people in our community and try to make the county a leader in promoting business ownership and opportunity for students.

The Young Entrepreneurs Academy, or YEA!, is a groundbreaking program that transforms middle and high school students into real entrepreneurial success stories through an exciting, projects-based approach.

Successful entrepreneurs will act as guest speakers and field trip hosts, teaching students how to launch and run their own real businesses through the dynamic program.

Founded in 2004 at the University of Rochester with support from the Kauffman Foundation, today the Young Entrepreneurs Academy is a proud national partner of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Campaign for Free Enterprise, and can be found in communities nationwide.

The impressive success of student participants across the country is why our chamber is so excited to bring this program to the county. Across the country, 100 percent of academy graduates graduate from high school on time, 99 percent of academy graduates enroll in college, 19 percent of YEA! students start second businesses, 50 percent of YEA! students continue a business for more than one year, 49 percent of YEA! students are female, 56 percent of YEA! students are underrepresented minorities, and 42 percent of YEA! students matriculate to host institutions when hosted on a college campus.

YEA! students have been awarded more than $500,000 in scholarships as a result of their involvement in the academy.

According to the most recent figures available, 870 students have graduated from YEA! and have launched 552 enterprises.

That’s impressive, especially for Charles County, which has made the long-term diversification of our economy — and the chance to give more of our residents the chance to work close to home — the primary goal of our economic development strategy. From the chamber’s perspective, giving our students the tools to start those businesses is a great way to jumpstart that economic diversification.

We will be the first chamber of commerce in Maryland to offer the program. That’s important, too, because it fits in well with our goal to make the county the most business-friendly county in our state. But most importantly, this is a way for our members to give back to our community, to help young people in our county expand their horizons and realize their dreams — to make their future — in the community where they were raised.

There are lots of ways business owners can help. Serve as sponsors or as mentors to the students who will enroll in the 30-week program that starts this fall. Teach some of the classes on finance, marketing and other topics that will challenge these potential entrepreneurs.

Call the chamber at 301-932-6500 to learn more about how to be part of the program.

This article was provided by Craig J. Renner, the president of the Charles County Chamber of Commerce.