by Asmi Kothari
Ithaca’s Youth Entrepreneurship Market (YEM) project started during Michael Mazza’s Self-Expression and Leadership Program, which went from September 2016 to January 2017. The purpose of this project is to capture the business ambitions of Ithaca’s youth, and provide an opportunity to explore their ideas. Specifically, the focus of Ithaca’s YEM is to provide a discovery playground for them to bring their business ideas to fruition for a day. The market flips the paradigm of the community-focused festival model often celebrated in the Ithaca community, by empowering the youth to be the vendors and the adults the consumers.
To enrich the experience, YEM provides two training sessions of entrepreneurship education with local entrepreneurs inspiring the youth with their success stories, as well as coaching from the YEM team. The first 2 YEM training sessions occurred in April 2017, and the YEM market took place in May.
It all started during the summer of 2016, Isabella and Amila Mazza (Michael’s daughters) created their most successful lemonade stand of their young entrepreneurial careers. Over the course of 5+ hours, they earned a significant personal profit as well as multiple donations for the SPCA. From their success, they were anxious to explore how they could expand their lemonade stand to other areas in the community.
While brainstorming various options (CFCU Downtown Concert Series, TCCC Movies in the Park, Congo Square, etc.) it was clear they were showing some impressive business savvy by looking to expand their market. Little did they know, they were naturally thinking like young entrepreneurs, and more than likely there are many others in the Ithaca youth community that shared the same business ambitions.
Students from 4th grade through 12th grade were invited to participate in the program. Initially, students from New Roots School, Dewitt Middle School, Northeast Elementary, and Caroline Elementary were invited, and they anticipated 15 youth teams would be creating businesses for the market. But the project more than doubled that expectation, with 55 registered students and 34 youth businesses.
The biggest challenge they faced was funding for the project. They were able to raise $5,100 to help each youth business with start-up funds. Documenting, distributing, and managing the funding created several challenges, which they intend to iron out in the future. All in all, it was a good problem to have, because the funds ensured that students from all economic backgrounds were able to participate in the program.
In April, YEM hosted a youth entrepreneurship training, where they taught students how to create a youth-based business plan. A few weeks later, they hosted a 2nd youth entrepreneurship training, where they taught students how to create a budget for their businesses. And on May 20th they arranged Ithaca’s 1st Youth Entrepreneurship Market itself. Overall, they ignited a conversation about youth entrepreneurship in the Ithaca community. Many local organizations are now approaching to partner in other similar concepts to help grow youth opportunities in Ithaca.
They intend to create a community conversation about youth entrepreneurship and host annual training and markets for students to explore entrepreneurship from a young age. They are also in conversation with the local farmer’s market about merging their efforts to train young aspiring entrepreneurs to create businesses and showcase them at the youth markets, and then they can move their businesses to the farmer’s market for more opportunities to sell over the course of the summer.
“Landmark’s contribution is the transformation of my life” says Michael. “The Self-Expression and Leadership Program was extremely inspirational for me to take on any crazy idea I have and manifest it into reality. While creating YEM, I also took on a 2nd project to create the 1st Ithaca Reggae Fest, dedicated to the protection of Cayuga Lake. This is also now complete and made a major impact in our community.”