Central Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce CEO Mary Lou Bedford addressed the Royal Palm Beach Education Advisory Board on Monday regarding the chamber’s new Young Entrepreneurs Academy.
The presentation was at the request of Councilman Jeff Hmara, who serves as liaison to the board and attended a recent educational forum on the topic sponsored by the chamber.
“It showed a connection between the business community and education, and how vital both are to one another for a variety of reasons,” Hmara said.
Bedford said that the Young Entrepreneurs Academy is an opportunity for education and commerce to come together.
The program began in Rochester, N.Y., and has spread to chambers of commerce throughout the nation.
“It is designed for chambers of commerce to adopt, and it is an after-school program for students to be mentored by the business community, she said. “They literally become entrepreneurs over the course of the 10-month program.”
The chamber’s first class started last week with an orientation session.
“It’s every Wednesday night at Palm Beach Atlantic University’s Wellington campus,” Bedford said. “We’re excited to say that we have 24 students. That’s the most you can have in the class.”
They had 34 applicants for the first class, she said, adding that 38 percent of the students accepted are from the Glades area.
“The School District of Palm Beach County has been absolutely instrumental in helping us to create and support this program,” she said. “We’re able to take these students from the Glades area, and they are brought to the campus, thanks to the school district.”
Bedford said that the program gives students an opportunity to see what the possibilities are for them.
“It’s a program where they will become CEO of their own corporation or a social movement that they are really passionate about, and it involves our business community,” she said. “Our business mentors are all from the chamber and the neighboring areas, and they help these students put their business plan together.”
The students go before a “Shark Tank” style panel and present their business and marketing plan.
“It’s exciting, because you watch these students grow throughout this process,” Bedford said. “We have been so blessed with these students in this program. You should be proud of your western communities students. We do have two from the Royal Palm Beach area, 38 percent are from the Glades area, and the rest are from Loxahatchee and Wellington. We really do have a great footprint of our students, and they are just amazing young men and women.”
The students are from both middle school and high school.
“Every single one of these students impressed upon us the fact that they really want to stay in Palm Beach County,” Bedford said. “They can have these businesses for as long as they want. They can have them for a year, or to raise money for their college, or continue on and grow that business.”
Palm Beach County School Superintendent Dr. Robert Avossa spoke enthusiastically about the program at the chamber’s recent economic forum.
“We’ve had such a tremendous outpouring of support from the business community,” Bedford said, noting that the U.S. and Florida chambers of commerce are also behind the program. “It’s all about educating our students and creating a work force. It’s something that we at the chamber take very seriously. We’ve always had an education component, but we felt that this Young Entrepreneurs Academy program really involves more students and businesses.”
While the Boca Raton and North Palm Beach chambers of commerce have had the program for longer, the Central Palm Beach County Chamber has had a better response. “We’re very proud of that fact,” Bedford said.
Learn more about the program at www.cpbchamberyea.org.