Teen entrepreneurs battle to bring their dreams to fruition

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STUDENTS FROM ST. SYLVESTER school with Ernst & Young mentors Brendan Ramirez (Far L), Liam Rhatigan (Far R) and teacher Cayla Herbst.

Annual challenge led by EY and Big Shoulders Fund aims to improve STEM education and encourage entrepreneurship among students

Big Shoulders Fund and the Chicago office of EY are celebrating the third year of a partnership to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in Big Shoulders Fund schools. The Entrepreneurship Program, sponsored by EY Chicago and featuring mentorship from EY employees, teaches students in 20 Big Shoulders Fund network schools basic lessons in entrepreneurship and helps them think critically about their community and identify innovative ways to make it better.

“Each year, I continue to be impressed by the creativity and enthusiasm put forth by these students, and how they’re utilizing a range of skills to think critically about how they can change their communities for the better,” said Lee Henderson, Big Shoulders Fund Director, 1871 board member and Assurance partner at EY. “Our goal is to inspire the next generation and equip them with the tools they need to make an impact. I have no doubt these students will be the leaders and innovators of tomorrow, and I can’t wait to see what they do with what they’ve learned through this program.”

Throughout the school year, students from Big Shoulders schools work hand-in-hand with EY mentors to develop a product or service that will improve the Chicago community, along with a financial plan, market analysis and assessment of materials needed to execute the idea. EY mentors help the students work through their ideas and provide hands-on education and collaboration on business strategy and development.

Earlier this month, this year’s program culminated in the annual team entrepreneurship competition, held at 1871, Chicago’s technology incubator. Students from 20 schools had the opportunity to present their business idea to a panel of judges, answer questions and explain why their idea was worth investing in. The winning team was St. Ferdinand School for their idea, Uniform Uniform, a business that sells used school uniforms. They were awarded a gift of $1,000 for their school.

“This was awesome! The best part of this program was starting our own business and learning how to be our own boss. We are excited to move forward with our business because we feel it is an idea that we want to share with people and will make a difference in our community,” said Angelena and Natalie, students from St. Ferdinand School.

This year’s panelists featured Chicago business leaders and entrepreneurs including, Michelle Vondrasek, CEO and Founder of Von Technologies, Bill Ruscitti, Audit Senior Manager at EY, Christian Young, Advisory Services Senior Manager at EY, and Kevin Willer, board member at 1871 and partner at Chicago Ventures.

“We are so grateful for EY’s tremendous and continued support in improving the STEM education available to our students, and the technology and tools that are essential to continuing to cultivate those skills,” said Josh Hale, President and CEO of the Big Shoulders Fund. “It’s empowering to see the students embrace their entrepreneurial spirit and realize the possibilities for their future and the impact they can have on their community. These will be the next generation of leaders who will strengthen their communities and Chicago so we can all have a brighter future.”

About Big Shoulders Fund

Big Shoulders Fund is an independent charitable organization that serves its network of 75 schools, providing a quality, values-based education to nearly 20,000 Chicago children. Founded in 1986 by Chicago business and civic leaders, Big Shoulders Fund has raised more than $350 million to date, creating wider access to a network of schools for underserved, low-income students and increasing the capacity of the schools through academic programs, scholarships and enrichment, leadership development, and operational strategy and improvements. The success of these investments is demonstrated by the fact that 94 percent of Big Shoulders Fund students graduate high school, 85 percent of graduating scholars enroll in college the year following high school, and alumni graduate from college at twice the national rate and, equally important, they are employed, volunteer, and donate at rates higher than their peers. Big Shoulders has earned a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, America’s largest evaluator of nonprofit, for 12 consecutive years, a distinction held by less than one percent of nonprofit organizations nationally.

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