The Northern Ontario Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative: Developing Business Leaders of Tomorrow

Enterprising Campers
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It was “Business for a Day” as campers displayed and sold their products in Sault Ste. Marie last summer. During Youth Enterprise Camp, youth and teenagers spend a fun-filled week learning about entrepreneurship through a variety of games and activities.

The Northern Ontario Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative is the brainchild of the North Claybelt Community Futures Development Corporation (CFDC). What began as a pilot program in 2001 to help youth at risk has evolved into a series of nine programs designed to encourage young people between the ages of 7 and 29 to explore and develop entrepreneurial skills. The programming covers a continuum of age-appropriate material that helps participants envision entrepreneurship as a viable career option in Northern Ontario.

FedNor has supported the North Claybelt CFDC’s youth initiative right from the start, whether it be funding for research into youth business programs, the establishment of the CFDC’s original entrepreneurship camp or its expansion into Northeastern Ontario. FedNor has been there every step of the way, investing nearly $2.2 million over the past 11 years.

The North Claybelt CFDC is now poised to provide youth entrepreneurship training across all of Northern Ontario in partnership with other CFDCs and community partners. The program will be rolled out in the summer of 2013, with communities such as Moose Factory, which is enthusiastic about offering its first Youth Enterprise Camp.

Cindy Reasbeck, the Youth Entrepreneurship Advisor for Northern Ontario CFDCs, who works with a team of passionate youth entrepreneurship coordinators, says they have developed a model for success that’s helping to make a difference. In the last six years, more than 12,000 children have been through the program, many of whom are repeat customers.

Entrepreneurial Debut
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High School students in Kapuskasing put their business savvy to the test during the annual Business Plan Challenge. The competition, supported by the North Claybelt CFDC, encourages teenagers to create a business plan based on their own ideas with prizes awarded to the top projects in various categories.

“The paradigm shift is happening. We’re seeing results and kids are more likely to have entrepreneurship on their radar,” said Ms. Reasbeck.

Results from a report in 2012 confirmed that youth who had participated in entrepreneurship programs were more likely to be self-employed, earn a high income and exhibit creativity and innovation. According to Ms. Reasbeck, there’s good reason for targeting young children as young as six.

“There’s a large gap between those people who think about starting a business and those who actually do it. By giving kids positive experiences and the tools they need, such as help with writing business plans, we’re helping to instill confidence. By starting with young children, we can plant a seed to develop an entrepreneurial culture that over time will bridge the gap between thinking and doing.”

Ms. Reasbeck says with successful experiences under their belts, participants will be more inclined to create their own jobs in the future because they won’t have to contend with the fear of the unknown. More importantly, they will be more likely to stay in Northern Ontario, creating work for themselves and others.

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