Julie Frieswyk wants local young people to say “yes” to entrepreneurship and innovation. That’s why the University of Delaware Horn Program’s Youth Initiative Manager is excited about organizing the Youth Entrepreneurship Summit (YES!) again this year.
YES! aims to connect teens with other interested young people through interactive workshops and braeakout sessions on everything from business startups to Bitcoin. Participants will also have the opportunity to watch the final round of the Diamond Challenge, a high school entrepreneurship competition with a reputation for shining a a light on Delaware’s promising young talent.
Now in its third year, the event has come to establish itself as a beacon of hope for the future of entrepreneurship.
“As the creator of the event, my main hope is that the attendees leave feeling like they are better prepared for, and more excited for, their future lives,” Frieswyk said. “I hope that they have made new connections with people they will keep in touch with for co-creative opportunities, advice and friendship.”
At this year’s YES! conference, the theme is “Startup Your Path,” and the keynote speakers are entrepreneur and author Justin Lazafan and HAPPY Organization CEO Haile Thomas. Both speakers represent youth in entrepreneurship at the highest level.
Lazafan, 20, is the curator of Next Gen Summit, a community for millennial entrepreneurs, and the author of What Wakes You Up?
Thomas is 16 years old, making her the youngest certified health coach trained at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She’s also the founder of HAPPY, an organization fighting conditions such as diabetes and childhood obesity.
The opportunity to engage with like-minded entrepreneurs and thinkers is something Frieswyk wishes she’d had the opportunity to participate in as a young person.
“I would have loved an event like this as a teen,” she said. “Having had the opportunity to network with people like Katlyn Grasso, Megan Grassell, Shreyas Parab and Justin Lafazan while in high school may have really changed my perspective on things. And to see other kids around me that also had a lot of ideas and were seeking ways to get them out into the world would have been really satisfying, like finding my tribe.”
Though YES! was specifically designed with high school students, high school educators and parents of high school students in mind, Frieswyk says she’s even seen some middle school students participate.
“If they’re ready and interested,” she said, “they’ll benefit too.”
Young people of all ages stand to gain a tremendous amount of knowledge from participating in YES! because it incorporates a variety of skills and topics and not just business, said Frieswyk.
“Usually teen events and programs are centered around athletics or specific academics,” she argued. “But YES! is a really nice combination of the competitive nature of sports — via our Diamond Challenge competition — and a rich and various spread of academic topics: from computer science, to art, to creativity, to acting.”
For Frieswyk, YES! is leading the way in a changing economy.
“For too long our society has focused too much on teaching us all how to follow directions and to follow a ‘safe’ path,” she said. “Rather than cling to the fear of a world with many unknowns ahead of us, we’re working with a generation that is seeing risk and failure as part of learning that it’s our duty to constantly work to improve the world around us. I’m glad that we have the opportunity to help shape this change.”