Meet The Area Students Who Are Learning About Business In A Hands-On Way

Written by: Fargo Inc

Photos by J. Alan Paul

Meet the 16 local middle and high school students of the FMWF Young Entrepreneurs Academy, the only program of its kind in the state.

A Word From YEA! Program Coordinator Katie Ralston


I first learned about the Young Entrepreneurs Academy in the spring of 2016 and instantly knew I wanted to be a part of it. The Chamber had just completed its first year with the program and was looking to hire a coordinator to run it. I’ve always had a passion for helping students develop the skills they need to achieve their goals, and I love that I get to do that every day in this role. I couldn’t do what I do, though, without the help of countless others throughout the community who have joined the YEA! team.


If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an entire city to help one start a business. I can’t say “thank you” enough to those who give their time to this program. The students would not have the experience they do without all of our volunteer guest speakers, field trip hosts, mentors and instructors.

Throughout the last three years, our lead instructor, Protosthetics’ Josh Teigen, has become an essential part of the fiber that makes up our local YEA! program and has played an instrumental role in the students’ understanding of how to build and operate a business. This year, we also welcomed two new instructors to our class. Cornerstone Bank’s Jeff Thomas and Abernathey Holdings’ Andrew Abernathey shared the responsibility of leading the second segment of the program and helped the students crunch numbers, connect with community resources and finalize their business plans.

Our instructors and mentors are our most valuable players. They work alongside the students, support them when they get stressed, celebrate milestones, introduce them to their networks and are some of the first customers when YEA! businesses launch. All of these individuals have a tremendous impact on our students.

Community Partners

We couldn’t have a youth program if we didn’t have students to fill it, and recruiting would be nearly impossible without support from our local schools. Many have given me the opportunity to speak to their students about YEA! This year alone, more than 2,500 area students in grades 6-12 learned about the program through presentations in their classrooms, which wouldn’t have happened if administrators, teachers and counselors didn’t believe in it. I appreciate their support of YEA! and am thankful for their partnership.

YEA! has also received a lot of support from local businesses that recognize the value of offering this type of education to our young people. YEA! provides students with opportunities to develop 21st century skills that will help them achieve academic and professional success for years to come.


Finally, and most importantly, we have some truly brilliant students in our community. I know because I’ve had the privilege to work with them over the last two years. The students in YEA! are creative, innovative and dedicated. Some are musicians; some are athletes; some are actors; some work part-time jobs; and most are involved in at least one student organization at school. And they voluntarily add three hours of class time onto their week because they want to continue learning!

Not all students enter YEA! with a business idea. In fact, most of our students form their ideas once they’re accepted into the program. From their interview to the investor panel competition to graduation, what these young people accomplish in less than a year is remarkable.

Creating a business is not easy, and YEA! requires students to be extra resourceful as they work with limited funding. I’m filled with pride when I see students navigate obstacles, turn to one another for input and reach out to community members to help them accomplish their goals. We’ve had students partner with nonprofit organizations; work with engineers at Appareo Systems to create a prototype; one even emailed Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi and got a response!

One of my favorite aspects of this program is watching the students create their own community within our classroom. We treat them like professionals, not kids, and they treat one another as colleagues. They range in age from 11-18, but you would never know it based on how they interact with each other.

When I look at the students who have been a part of this academy, I can tell that the future of our community is in good hands. I’m inspired by the young entrepreneurs I’m lucky enough to work with and can’t wait to see what they accomplish with the skills they developed in YEA!


About YEA!

The Young Entrepreneurs Academy was started in 2004 at the University of Rochester in New York. Since that time, YEA! has grown nationally, and the FMWF Chamber of Commerce’s YEA! program, which started in the fall of 2015, is the first and only of its kind in North Dakota.

YEA! is a 30-week program that takes middle and high school students through the process of developing their own real businesses. From October through May, YEA! students meet at Concordia College, Minnesota State University Moorhead and North Dakota State University and learn from local entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs come from a variety of fields and teach the fundamentals of starting a business and provide valuable insight for the students to consider as they create their businesses.

Students are also paired with area professionals who serve as mentors and who come into class for six weeks to help them finalize their business plans and prepare for their YEA! Investor Panel Shark Tank presentations. During the Investor Panel Shark Tank, students have five minutes to pitch their ideas and ask for real funding to help them launch their businesses. Although many may receive funding, only one business will be selected to advance to the national YEA! Saunders Scholars competition.

Meet The Kids

Isabelle Chambers, age 15

Mentor: Nate Mickelberg, Fargo INC!


The idea: NerdSport
NerdSport’s mission is to encourage, support, and celebrate young people involved in non-athletic competitions and activities. This will be done through an event-based platform with complementary content online.

Launching a business is not easy, but when you take it one step at a time, it becomes conquerable. My biggest challenge has been focusing on one idea and trying to start small and leave room to grow.

Anna Hanson, age 14

Mentor: Gregory Wald, Moore Engineering

YEA!The idea: KennelBotix
KennelBotix specializes in building the Kennelbot, which automates the cleaning process in humane societies and commercial kennels. It’s installed into existing kennels, and at the push of a button, the Kennelbot cleans the kennel, start to finish. With the Kennelbot, more time can be directed toward the animals in shelters.

My reality check
Finding out how much my product was going to cost.

Derek Johs, age 18

West Fargo High School
Mentor: Adam Kusler, Implementation Specialists

YEA!The idea: DEV
DEV is an affordable computer-building service that focuses on adding customized aspects. In addition, DEV looks to cooperate with local business by including them in the creation process, ensuring the perfect computer for the customer, regardless of purpose.

My reality check
I found out very quickly that a business cannot involve a single person. Help from those who have offered has really aided in the process. I’ve learned from new worlds and have made new connections that promise to deliver when DEV becomes a reality. Now that I know it’s not acceptable to handle everything alone, I’m no longer afraid to search for help. This realization alone has driven my inspiration to continue.

Tyler Niemi, age 17

Oak Grove Lutheran High School
Mentor: Tiffanie Honeyman, OpGo Marketing

YEA!The idea: Red River Auto Marketing
Red River Auto Marketing’s purpose is fairly simple: We do social media management and marketing for car dealerships. Recently, there has been a push toward social media as a tool for marketing and a huge influx of social media marketers. To set ourselves apart, we focus only on car dealerships.

The biggest challenge for me has been the public-speaking portion of the program. We haven’t done too much of it yet, but a lot of the program is built around public speaking, which is not one of my strong suits. However, we have been working on that through different workshops and other things, so I think, in the future, this won’t be as much of an issue.

Zoe Bundy, age 13

Discovery Middle School
Mentor: Betty Gronneberg, uCodeGirl

YEA!The idea: Brainy Ladies
Brainy Ladies is an e-magazine that focuses on girls interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Brainy Ladies will help a daughter/niece/special girl get interested in STEM, embrace their inner genius and have fun while doing it. Included with a one year, $15 bi-monthly subscription will be DIY videos, STEM projects and contests.

Favorite part of YEA!
My favorite YEA! lesson was when we had a speaker come talk to us about our elevator speeches. I learned that I can talk really fast when reading an elevator speech and so can Ivy and Anna! I found that lesson to be important and fun because we got to pitch to our classmates and instructors right after the practice. I also learned that it can be a great learning experience writing about yourself and your business.

Jake Monson, age 17 – John Van Listenburg, age 18

Park Christian Senior High School – Fargo Davies High School
Mentor: Kim Hoeschen, Xcel Energy


The idea: Simplistic Solutions
Simplistic Solutions is a company designed to find solutions to everyday problems people deal with. Our first project as a company is called the Airmigo and will help people who have allergic reactions to airborne allergens. Once the company grows, we will be attempting to tackle a problem that many people face and deal with daily: air pollution.

Favorite part of YEA!
I personally liked the CEO roundtable where we got to hear from actual business owners about what they did when they started their businesses and how they failed and succeeded. I also like how we put an entire business plan together, step by step.

The risk of not “making it” makes you strive for it even more. It was a challenge to solve aspects of the business that we had no experience in, but we researched and learned that, as owners, we need to be able to do everything within the business.

Hanna Slater, age 18

Fargo North High School
Mentor: Luke McShane, Fargo Park District

The Idea: Paradox Archery
Paradox Archery is a pop-up archery range that focuses on affordable recreational archery. The business aims to get young kids and teens involved in a sport that is expensive and makes it affordable for people of average household income.

My reality check
It takes a lot — and I mean A LOT — of time to build a business. And it takes hard work and dedication that not everyone possesses. It takes both an idea and work. What you put in is what you get out; that is super important to know.

Ivy Mastrud, age 12

Ben Franklin Middle School
Mentor: Samantha Gust, Hospice of the Red River Valley

The idea: LIFT (Learn, Inspire, Foster & Thrive)
LIFT is a symbolic fashion accessory that represents a commitment to empowering, or “lifting,” women and young ladies. The accessory cannot be purchased; it must be earned by completing online training themed around actionable ways to support females. Graduates of the program can easily identify a network of supportive allies by the branded accessory they wear.

Favorite part of YEA!
Learning how to create a business that will change the world!

Jack Stoppleworth, age 13

Kindred High School
Mentor: Ben Keen, McNeilus Steel

The idea: Stoppleworth Defense
Stoppleworth Defense teaches self-defense to students after the school day is over.

The biggest possible failure for me is that my business goes belly up. That may seem really awful and terrifying, but one of the advantages of starting a business so young is that it doesn’t matter if you fail. You learn from your failure, and you’ve got the rest of your life to try again.

Ammena Jovonovich, age 16

Fargo North High School
Mentors: Brianne Hoffman, Doosan Bobcat and Sara Hanstad, Wells Fargo

The idea: Books For Tomorrow
Books For Tomorrow strives to help fill the economic gap that schools endure. By taking unused textbooks from high schools, universities, and libraries, Books For Tomorrow resells educational materials at a price affordable to schools in low-income areas in order to provide students with the best academic opportunities.

My reality check
My biggest reality check has been in both written and spoken form: Short and concise is always better than long and over-detailed.

Scobie Bathie, age 17

Fargo North High School
Mentor: Blayne Magdefrau, SCHEELS

The idea: PHAT Caps (People Help Alleviate Trash)
PHAT Caps sells baseball hats created from entirely recycled and reused materials. 10 percent of all profits also get donated to Sierra Club, which is an environmental organization that works to help save the nature on our planet.

Finding suppliers for all the recycled materials I need to create the PHAT Caps hats has proven to be difficult. I have to research and compare different qualities of supplies to see which best fit the needs.

Raini Endicott, age 18

Woodrow Wilson High School
Mentor: Kristi Ulrich, Face It TOGETHER Fargo-Moorhead


The idea: Big Picture Project
The Big Picture Project is a program designed to create an environment of empowerment and opportunity for women who have been, or are currently, incarcerated and remove the stigma surrounding those who have been incarcerated.

Since I was very young, the plan was always to save the world. I didn’t know where or how I was going to start, but simply: I was going to do it all! It’s with that mindset where it was more of a challenge than anything to take this route. I never saw myself being a business owner because I felt I didn’t fit the idea of what a business owner was. It took some time to look past that notion and realize I’m doing this for a reason. I have the passion, and with that, the pieces can fall together if I work hard enough.

Jack Machacek, age 17

Oak Grove Lutheran High School
Mentor: Jack Yakowicz, Office Sign Company


The idea: Unprofessional
Unprofessional creates and sells various types and styles of art that are affordable and appealing to a demographic less familiar with art. Unprofessional aims to be unintimidating and un-serious, while still creating something meaningful. It aims to be the Pauly Shore of the art community, if that makes sense.

Favorite part of yea!
The insight from people who have experience with small businesses and startups is extremely helpful and motivating. The social aspect of the program is also pretty fly; it’s a great opportunity for connections.

Amber Brekhus, age 16 – Abril Arce, age 17

West Fargo Sheyenne High School
Mentor: Josh Christy, Codelation


The idea: Allhere
AllHere is a local business that focuses on event advertising, along with features for further marketing. The app allows for event attendees to connect with one another while also staying informed about the event information. AllHere will also provide the opportunity for local businesses to advertise directly to the event attendees about deals and recommendations.

Favorite part of YEA!
As a team, one of our favorite aspects of the YEA! Program was the chance to not only work with so many like-minded students who constantly support us but also to reach out and meet influential members of our business community in town. All of these people have helped us grow as entrepreneurs and encouraged us along the way.

Our reality check
The biggest reality check we’ve faced (so far) is that it’s important to make deadlines and stick to them. If you’re not willing to put in the time, you won’t see the desired outcomes. Finding time was something we both struggled with initially, but now we are working even harder and are excited to see our final product interact with our customers and community.

Meet A YEA! Mentor

Kristi Ulrich, Executive Director, Face it TOGETHER FM

What they do: A community addiction-management organization that offers one-on-one and peer-to-peer coaching to addiction sufferers and their loved ones at no charge
How she got involved w/ YEA!: Daughter, Sydney, was in inaugural YEA! class two years ago (and still runs her business, “Headbands for a Cure,” to this day)
How she most added value as a mentor: Business plan financials

Kristi Ulrich and Raini Endicott

Q + A

What did your student teach YOU throughout the experience?
KU: Perserverance. Especially with myself right now, working in a new startup, it’s very refreshing to see others believing in social entrepreneurship as well. We offer our services at no charge, and it’s a challenge to bring in money so that we can provide. We raise money today so that we can help people tomorrow, and I think having that freshness of youth (reminds you) that anything is possible.

Why do you think programs like YEA! are beneficial to the larger business community?
KU: I think it opens up eyes. There are a lot of great ideas with our youth, and it’s an opportunity for the business community to listen to those ideas. And it gives value to the youth, from a standpoint of confidence-building. When my daughter did (YEA!) — she has some anxiety — she stood up and did her presentation, and it was no big deal.

Engaged youth make for a healthy community, and it gives kids something to do. And we can take them seriously. They have great ideas; not all the ideas come from older people. So if we can get our youth engaged in the community, that’s a really good thing.

What would you say to a fellow professional or company thinking about getting involved with Yea!?
KU: Both the YEA! participant and you, as a businessperson, get something from it. It’s not one-sided. And we can be wonderfully surprised by what these kids have to offer and what they can bring to the table. It’s just a phenomenal program. The things (these kids) are doing don’t always have to wait until college or after college.

Blayne Magdefrau, Assistant Store Leader, SCHEELS

What they do: Fargo-based national clothing and sporting goods retailer
How he got involved w/ YEA!: Chosen by SCHEELS team
How he most added value as a mentor: Retail expertise in customer service and buying

Blayne Magdefrau and Scobie Bathie

Q + A

What did your student teach YOU throughout the experience?
BM: One thing that was very eye-opening was how advanced (Scobie) was in running a business. The things I’ve learned the last 10 years working in retail versus some of the things that she (already knew) — Scobie’s still a high school student, and it was very eye-opening how prepared she was. Maybe it was just her, but I’m guessing most of the students in the class were very prepared.

Why do you think programs like YEA! are beneficial to the larger business community?
BM: Whether it’s ownership or responsibility, I think this is such a great program to really show students what it truly does take —the sacrifices and everything that goes into running a business. And it’s their own. What a valuable tool for them to have some real-life experience, where they can take that on to a different skill set in whatever they go on to do.

What would you say to a fellow professional or company thinking about getting involved with YEA!?
BM: In my opinion, this is just as much for the mentors as it is for the students — to see not only what a great organization it is but to also be able to give back and keep in touch with what some of these students are capable of doing. It shows, both in our community and in general, that there are some very talented people out there, and it gives you a sense of hope. These kids are driven, and they’re looking to make a difference, which I think is awesome.

Jack Yakowicz, Marketing Manager, Office Sign Company

What they do: Custom sign company that produces professional office signs and interior signage
How he got involved w/ YEA!: Office Sign Company has been involved with YEA! since its inception, both as a sponsor and a provider of mentors.
How he most added value as a mentor: Organizational structure

Jack Yakowicz and Jack Machacek

Q + A

What did your student teach YOU throughout the experience?
JY: To have fun in what you’re doing. He kept things really light and had a pretty simple approach: I’m going to produce these boxes of art, and they’re going to sell. And I think I often get caught in the nuances of: What’s our target demographic? How are we going to make this work? What are all the channels of advertising we should go through? With him, it was, “I have a solid product. I believe in my talent. I’m going to sell things, and it’s going to work.” And that was really nice to see that approach and not be too worried about competition or other outside factors.

Why do you think programs like YEA! are beneficial to the larger business community?
JY: I think it puts a little pressure on established businesses. When you see some of these kids and how young they are, how much energy they have, and all the great ideas they have, I think it puts pressure on other businesses to stay fresh, stay youthful and match that energy.

What would you say to a fellow professional or company thinking about getting involved with YEA!?
JY: I would definitely say it’s worthwhile. I believe in the power of the organization to create opportunities that even I, when I was Jack’s age, didn’t have. I didn’t even really start thinking about business until probably college or a couple years into college. YEA! gives them an opportunity at an early age to start thinking about their future and career path and constructing that path themselves. And I think that’s just a huge leg-up for Fargo as a whole. Also, ideally, these kids will keep their businesses local and see them grow and flourish.
meet the kids

YEA! Presenting Sponsor: Cornerstone Bank

The Cornerstone of YEA!

As the FMWF Chamber of Commerce was looking for a presenting sponsor for YEA! when the program launched in 2015, President Craig Whitney’s mind went to a local business that he knew was itself founded in the entrepreneurial tradition.

Jeff Thomas is the market president for FMWF at Cornerstone Bank. Thomas has served as both a YEA! instructor and as a mentor since the program’s inception three years ago.

“Unlike some other banks, Cornerstone Bank was originally founded for entrepreneurial families in the Fargo-Moorhead market,” says Cornerstone Market President Jeff Thomas, who got to know Whitney well during his time as chair of the Chamber board in 2010-11. “So this program really struck a chord with us.

“As an organization, one of our values is that we value our role as neighbors and contributors, and that contributing is not just in the form of money; it’s also volunteer efforts. So from the beginning, I myself have either mentored or served as an instructor, and some others in the bank have also mentored students along the way.”

3 Thoughts on YEA!

1. We have a soft spot for entrepreneurs.
“On a daily basis, we’re working with entrepreneurs in the communities that we do business in to help them be successful. And if you look at the statistics, most businesses are small businesses. They aren’t employing hundreds of people; they’re employing handfuls of people. And those businesses can create a great life not just for the owners but for their team members.

“Our belief is that the best ideas, best products, and best services come from those people who are trying to solve problems and explore things that others haven’t. So with a program like this, where you have young minds really starting to critically think about how to make our community and region a better place with the products and services they have, we think that’s cool. We have a soft spot for entrepreneurs.”

2. These kids are real-life success stories.
“I mentored a girl named Joanna Lin last year, and just last month I believe, she started selling her ECOPOTZ at Baker (Garden in Fargo). She really went back and forth struggling with whether or not she thought she had a good business plan, struggled with the thought of whether this is something she really wanted to bring to market, and a year later, she’s brought it to market.”

3. FMWF business community: Join us!
“The program is popular, and it continues to grow in popularity, but I wish we had the ability to get more kids involved and get the word out to more families about the things this program can do to help shape their kids. I would hope we could find a better way to help the business community promote it.”

YEA! Investor Panel Shark Tank

Tuesday, April 10, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.

Gaede Stage, Minnesota State University Moorhead
1104 7th Ave. S, Moorhead

Free but registration required at

For more information on YEA! and to learn how you or a student can get involved, visit or contact Program Coordinator Katie Ralston at [email protected] or 218-233-1100.

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Brady Drake is the editor of Fargo INC!