JA Goes Live with First Entrepreneur Summit

Screenshot from JA Entrepreneur Summit

Junior Achievement-Rocky Mountain hosted its first-ever live virtual programmatic event for teens on November 10. The JA Entrepreneur Summit brought together three founders of innovative startups to inspire young people interested in building businesses. Participants from across Colorado and Wyoming joined the hour-long interactive session, as well as some from around the world.

The event is an exciting new milestone for JA, which has rebuilt all of its programs this year in response to the pandemic so that students would remain engaged and inspired while learning practical entrepreneurship, financial literacy, and career readiness lessons.

“We see our role as a partner to teachers and parents. We are creating new, educational opportunities that are easy for them to implement while they are dealing with the pandemic’s impact on classrooms every day,” said Mike MacDonnell, JA-Rocky Mountain chief learning officer. “Part of this is fueling teens’ enthusiasm for entrepreneurship and delivering to them role models who are not much older than they are who demonstrate that they can pursue their dreams and make them happen.”

The summit was made possible through a new partnership with Techstars, a company that supports entrepreneurs and helps them grow their ideas into world-changing businesses. Techstars secured the panelists for the event and representative Saba Karim moderated the discussion. The event was also possible thanks to funding by presenting sponsor, Husch Blackwell, and official sponsor, Nelnet Bank.

Panelist Vanessa Clark is an aerospace engineer who designed and built rockets and spacecraft before co-founding Atomos Space in 2017. Atomos builds and operates orbital transfer vehicles, also known as space tugs. Clark advised participants to be curious and challenge assumptions. She said the current climate is amenable to some types of businesses that don’t rely on in-person contact.

“If you can develop a product or if you can work with a distributed team, there is no reason not to start a company now,” said Clark.

Panelist Mustafa Syed, CEO and founder of REZA, discussed the development of his athletic shoes, which light up for safer night jogging. Syed said he’s focused on fundraising.

“We’ve been carving our pitch to investors and showing them … why REZA is different … and what it’s going to take for us to be successful,” Syed said.

He urged young people to be persistent in the pursuit of their dreams.

Panelist Sigil Wen is a high school senior and an activator at The Knowledge Society, a high-potential innovator training program. He founded Sigil Digital, a creative agency that builds websites and product videos for startups, and he leads Spark Teen, a startup accelerator for teen entrepreneurs. Wen suggested reaching out to authors, CEOs, or whomever else seems interesting to try and set up a meeting.

“If you can do that consistently — like if you met someone really cool every week, it’s going to change your life. It did for me,” said Wen.

A recent survey for JA by research firm ENGINE Insights showed that nearly one-in-four teens (22%) said they were less likely to consider starting a business as an adult due to the impact of COVID-19 on small business. Those who participated in the JA Entrepreneur Summit were more hopeful. Karim noted that in response to a poll question toward the end of the event participants were asked, “Are you more interested in starting a business now?” He said 58% responded affirmatively.

Watch the JA Entrepreneur Summit: