YEI aims to show Northeast Ohio youths how to succeed in business

Check out the full article by Jean Bonchak for The News-Herald

An appearance on the popular television show “Shark Tank” may be a future viable option for those involved with the Young Entrepreneur Institute.

The program, based in Northeast Ohio, assists children and teens with developing the valuable skills and know how necessary to succeed in business.

The institute was first introduced at University School in Hunting Valley in 2006 by successful area businessman Greg Malkin. A few years later the program expanded and its reach now includes partnerships with several schools in Cuyahoga, Lake and Geauga counties and beyond.

Malkin currently serves as the institute’s executive director.

“We take our mission seriously,” he said. “Every child should understand and experience entrepreneurship and so YEI’s growth to support national schools and organizations is a natural fit.

“In fact, we are working with more and more organizations around the world,” he added. “For example, our Young Entrepreneur Pitch Challenge toolkit was recently translated into Arabic by a Middle East partner.”

The Pitch Challenge is a set of activities for kindergarten through 12th-grade students in which they connect their interests with the solutions to problems, develop pitches for the solutions and perform them either live or via video.

Intended benefits include the enhancement of creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and presentation skills.

Additional opportunities assisting with the advancement of the entrepreneurial spirit include Lemonade Day, summer camps and participation in area markets at Crocker Park, Shaker Square, Willoughby’s Outdoor Market and other locations.

Among the vast array of products produced and sold by budding entrepreneurs are confectionary goods, artwork, 3-D items and jewelry. As long as students primarily make the products themselves they are permitted to participate.

“It really runs the gamut,” said program manager Jessica Dragar. “The students are so creative. They have so much energy. They think out of the box.”

Jovianne Henderson of Willoughby Hills is a senior at Northern Career Institute in Lake County. With the help of the Young Entrepreneur Institute she recently took park in the Midday Market at Great Lakes Mall by marketing and selling items from her own line of Jovianne Beauti products.

Deanna Elsing, coordinator of Northern Career Institute’s Willoughby campus, noted that Jovianne’s involvement with YEI is an excellent opportunity.

“Her work ethic and drive for success is contagious, and I am so incredibly proud of her,” Elsing said. “It has been a privilege to watch her entrepreneurial spirit grow over the last two years in our Business Academy program at the Northern Career Institute.

“It’s partnerships like this with the Young Entrepreneur Institute, Great Lakes Mall, South High School, Excel Tecc and the Northern Career Institute which give career technical education students hands-on opportunities to learn and grow.”

The program faced some challenges with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and consequently the closure of several markets.

“We were unsure if we were still going to find safe selling events for students,” Dragar said. “We worked with our partners to find safe solutions and the selling opportunities have been in high demand.

“Many students took advantage of their newfound free time to learn new skills, keep busy (bake, craft, create, etc.) and start businesses,” she added. “Our support to both students and educators has had to shift and we have found much success in what we have done.”

At the markets YEI provides tables and tents at no charge for students as well as entrepreneurial coaching. Once the selling event is completed students are asked to take part in a business review during which they assess elements such as how many products were brought and sold and what profits were collected.

Various strategies that worked and which could be improved are also discussed.

“Seeing these kids having these light bulb moments… they realize they can take charge of their destiny by being an entrepreneur…it’s really exciting to watch that,” Dragar said.

In addition to various hands-on programs YEI’s website,, offers many resources for educators, classrooms, and students to continue entrepreneurial teaching and learning in a remote environment.