Photo by Chung Chow
Simply put, it's the type of educational program that entrepreneurs Amit Sandhu, Punit Dhillon and Rattan Bagga wish had been available when they were in high school.
Young Entrepreneur Leadership Launchpad (YELL) is a free high school program that aims to “ignite the entrepreneurial spirit within young minds,” Sandhu said. Co-founded by the trio, YELL launched in partnership with the West Vancouver School District in 2013 and is now offered in seven Lower Mainland school districts including Richmond.
Contrary to its name, the program's focus isn't on generating tomorrow's entrepreneurs.
Rather, it aims to give students a strong understanding of the fundamental underlying principles that enable businesses and organizations to function and prosper.
By understanding the key areas of a business or organization, including operations, marketing, and finance, Sandhu said this will enable a student to take on a leadership role no matter what type of career they pursue.
The program aims to provide youth with an entrepreneurial toolbox by fostering creative problem solving. Students are taught about the important role failure plays in the process of innovation.
"Failure is something we're not teaching students how to handle properly in schools," Sandhu said. "Inherently...to be innovative, you have to fail multiple times. You have to be courageous enough to take a risk and keep on going. That perseverance is very important. And that's something we want to build in young people."
The CEO of Richmond-based real estate conglomerate Ampri Group, Sandhu said the program is offered in Richmond as a credited after-school program taught at Richmond Secondary School on Mondays from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. YELL is a federally-registered charity and the program is philanthropically supported by families and organizations including RBC Foundation, Varshney Capital Corp., Hive, Radius SFU and the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.
While in other districts the number of applicants for the program often outstrips the number of seats available, in Richmond there are still a handful of spots available (to apply, visit weyell.org).
"To all of the professionals that I speak to on a daily basis, when we tell them about the work we're doing with YELL, everyone says the same thing: They wish they had this program when they were in high school," Sandhu said.
Sandhu believes the YELL program can save students a lot of time to navigate what their careers are going to look like.
Students in Grades 10, 11 and 12 are under a lot of pressure to figure out what they want to do with their lives, Sandhu said. The YELL program, which is offered in seven school districts including Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby, addresses that issue by exposing students to myriad career paths.
The program brings at least 20 professionals from a specific community into the classroom.
Students are exposed to at least 12 to 15 guest speakers in their class, as well as roughly five mentors per class who spend up to three months helping them to develop business models for their own creative ideas.
"This type of training just doesn't exist in high schools right now, where you can be exposed to so many different people, a diverse set of professionals who come from many different backgrounds, male, female, young, old, and lots of different industries as swell," he said.
Sandhu said the provincial government publishes an annual survey of outgoing Grade 12s, and the confidence levels of these students drops year after year.
"What we like to do through YELL is help students focus on finding a purpose-filled path. We believe if they find a purpose-filled path, they will be more engaged, they will be more productive, and of course the financial rewards will come as well."
The key, Sandhu said, is finding the unique set of skills a student has and allowing them, through the entrepreneurial toolbox, to find "where they fit in the world and where they can make the biggest and deepest impact."
While the YELL program draws a wide range of students including high academic achievers who volunteer in their school and community, it also attracts students "who may not necessarily do well with traditional assessments" and gives them "an opportunity to excel and build their skills through experiential learning," Sandhu said.
Students are evaluated by how well they work with their peers in groups.
"It's more of a social and creative course," he said.
At the same time, the program is challenging as it requires students to arrange time to meet with their mentors in the community, to divide roles and responsibilities, and to keep each other accountable and to deliver their projects on time to their teachers.
Students are also required to make a presentation to their peers for constructive feedback, and every student must make a presentation in front of a group of more than 400 people at the end of the program.