The phrase “youth entrepreneurs” often brings to mind technologically savvy young people in hoodies looking for investors for their app or startup. But the organization Youth Entrepreneurs is changing that perception, and bringing it from Silicon Valley just a little closer to home.
“We are really helping students look internally, helping them develop their innate skills, so that they can build upon those passions and contribute to society. So it’s a little bit different of a definition,” said Kylie Stupka, president of Youth Entrepreneurs. “We’re trying to help them determine where it is they see their unique fit in life and how it is they can use entrepreneurial thinking to solve problems. So we like to define entrepreneurship is solving problems for profit, and we’re doing that through and with students, traditionally in the high school and middle school education space.”
The program promotes entrepreneurial values, like responsibility, principles and sound judgement, among others, while educating students about economic and sociological concepts that can help them become more productive members of their communities. These can range from ideas like opportunity costs to theories of human action.
“it’s not just your traditional ‘here’s how you start a business and here’s the practical skills and tools that you need to do so,’ although those are intertwined,” Stupka said. “It’s very much about the theory and the mindset and how it is you can approach any type of opportunity through this lens, whether it be just in decision making at home or decision making within whatever type of situation or institution you find yourself in at that moment.”
And Youth Entrepreneurs measures success by different metrics than the standard education system. Stupka said students tend to come from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and tend to have difficulty in secondary education. So sometimes success looks like participation from a student who never felt like they fit in the traditional education system. Sometimes it looks like students who already have jobs applying these concepts and rising to management positions.
“What we’re doing in these classrooms looks a lot different than what you see in your traditional classroom and that students are experiencing what they’re learning,” Stupka said. “So, for instance, they may be popping up a market in a market day in their school and selling products. Or they might be rapid prototyping through a game we call paper airplane to understand how it is you rapid prototype, fail fast, fail cheap, just some of these kind of concepts.”
Stupka’s favorite is the vacant lot project. Students are encouraged to see vacant lots and boarded up buildings around their communities as opportunities, to see the potential, rather than the problem. Students in the past have worked with their communities to turn empty fields into market spaces and soccer fields.
It’s all about the win-win focus: create value, improve someone else’s life, and turn a profit at the same time.
“I get pretty excited when we see some of kids’ ideas and hear some of the great things that are happening in communities as a result of the project,” Stupka said.
Kylie Stupka, President, Youth Entrepreneurs
Kylie Stupka is rarely in the office, and that’s a good thing. Married to a teacher and a mother of three, the Youth Entrepreneurs’ president understands the importance of getting out and sharing YE’s mission with the world. “We are helping more students understand that they have opportunities. They have the capability to transform not only their own lives, but the lives of others. And that’s something worth investing our time and energy into,” Kylie says.
Prior to joining YE in 2007, Kylie held various positions, ranging from manager to director, at BKD, a CPA and advisory firm. She also served as director of finance and administration for the Greater Wichita Convention & Visitors Bureau. Kylie is committed to her community, serving as a board and committee member for various local organizations. She’s also connected with many national organizations dear to her heart. Kylie was previously selected to the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce Leadership Wichita class and the Wichita Business Journal’s prestigious “40 Under 40.”
Kylie’s husband teaches science in Andover, Kansas, where the couple resides. Six nights a week, you can find this Kansas State University alumna in the bleachers cheering for her three sons.