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YES Summit Gathers Young Entrepreneurs and Creative Minds

By Lex Schroeder

In mid-November, Jeanne Dasaro and I had the privilege of attending and leading a workshop at Jump Start America: Youth Entrepreneurship Summit 2011 at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri. Sponsored by YES (Youth Entrepreneurship and Sustainability) and the Conscious Capitalism Institute, the Summit brought together young entrepreneurs (under age 35), community organizers, thought leaders, and CEOs to think together about the future of youth entrepreneurship. Specifically, how to better support young entrepreneurs in connecting with each other, growing their ventures, and learning from business leaders who have come before them.

The Summit also introduced us and other attendees to YouthTrade—an organized social movement by YES and its partners to provide dedicated access to markets for goods and services produced by young American entrepreneurs. The purpose of YES is clear: align Conscious companies with Conscious entrepreneurs to provide (a) an opportunity for contribution for the company, (b) a leg up for the entrepreneur by providing access to markets, and (c) an easy way for consumers to contribute to both the company and the young entrepreneur by buying certified YouthTrade products.

Founded in 2002 and headed up by President Poonam Ahluwalia, YES has hosted five global summits, built and supported 55 YES networks, produced a host of learning materials. Perhaps most importantly, YES has helped place youth entrepreneurship on the global agenda.

The Summit gave attendees the opportunity to hear stories and updates from YES chapter leaders in Mali, Mexico, and Flint, Michigan. Conference panelists and speakers included Jeffrey Hollender, thought leader on corporate responsibility, sustainability, and social equity (watch NPi’s video with Jeffrey Hollender); Lawrence Koh (longtime entrepreneur and CEO of International Diversified Products); business thought leader Betsy Sanders; and Conscious Capitalism Institute Chairman Raj Sisodia.

Woven into the 2 ½ day agenda were video features on or by some of the entrepreneurs in the room. We watched the Holstee Manifesto, a beautiful short video that, beyond communicating the mission and vision of Holstee, seems to speak perfectly to many entrepreneurs’ new vision for socially responsible, community-rooted, heart-driven companies (watch short interview with Holstee founders Fabian Pfortmuller and Michael Radparvar here). And we saw a great feature by The Wall Street Journal on Back to the Roots, a great little company/urban mushroom farm out of Oakland, California that grows gourmet mushrooms and creates mushroom kits with recycled coffee grounds.

Most valuable for me personally was having the opportunity to exchange ideas with other young entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds doing wildly different things. Sometimes it’s enough just to get motivated, intellectually curious people in a room together and let them take it from there. Also, I appreciated listening to thought leaders and CEOs speak about their own experiences as entrepreneurs, telling us what made the difference for them over the years and how they navigated inevitable roadblocks and challenges.

For other reflections on the Summit, we’ve compiled a short video featuring a handful of other attendees and presenters, including Nikhil Arora (Back to the Roots), Kate Fedosova (Peace in Focus), Garrio Harrison (dblthink), Shelton Green (Good & Fair Clothing), Lopa Brunjes (The Biochar Company), Jeffrey Hollender, and more. Check it out and please share with your networks! If you were at the Summit, what was most valuable for you? What new questions did the Summit raise for you? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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