During the most recent school year, JA programs influenced over 4 million students in nearly 200,000 classrooms across the U.S. Its volunteer driven programs reach kids from K-12, fostering not just entrepreneurship, but work readiness and financial literacy skills as well.
Many JA program alumni have gone on to achieve great success, including graduates such as Kim Kaupe, whose music merchandising startup ZinePak landed her a spot on the Forbes magazine list of “30 under 30” entrepreneurs in 2014. Another example is Emily Matson, co-founder of the multi-million dollar accessory brand, Emi-Jay.
With some 48 percent of American’s expressing interest in owning a business of their own, JA is helping kids dream big and tackle the questions of what to aim for when staring a business and how to get there.
Now with a reimagined program and partnership with insurance giant The Hartford, JA is giving itself a makeover that will give more teens an opportunity to gain entrepreneurship skills in a 13-week volunteer led program. Other major companies that support JA include Microsoft, Citibank, Accenture, AT&T, CapitalOne, T. Rowe Price, UPS, Allstate, Metlife and many others.
Under the JA Company Program for grades 9-12, students develop a business idea and company name, learn how to market their product or service, and then actually go out and sell it in their local community.
New Digital Learning Tools
In the past, JA programs have been largely conducted face-to-face. Recognizing that today’s youth are learning and connecting in new tech-enabled ways, JA has revamped the program to meet teens on their own digital turf – their smart phones, iPads, laptops and online. New digital learning modules help teens explore entrepreneurship more easily than ever.
Digitized sessions include interactive content such as vodcasts (a podcast that also has video content) led by subject matter experts who explore topics such as brainstorming a new product or service. Lessons also stress the importance of conducting market research to refine the product or service and make certain it meets an important customer need or solves a pain point.
The new JA Company Program offers students a chance to play a greater leadership role in the process, while classroom mentors encourage them to find their voice and spark their entrepreneurial spirit. And they can apply online tools such as ecommerce and crowd funding to develop and launch their business ideas.
The 13-week after school program is divided into two parts: Company Ops and Deeper Dive. Students report on progress and accomplish learning objectives during the Company Ops section, and can challenge themselves by exploring key startup concepts in greater depth during the Deeper Dive sessions – either in groups or individually.
The program explores topics important to almost any would-be business owner, including business plans, company structure, capitalization, leadership, marketing, elevator pitch, product development, customer service, quality control, sales techniques, supply chain and even SWOT analysis.
Even if students don’t start their own business, the skills learned can be valuable in almost anything they do. This includes learning such things as accountability, critical thinking, collaboration, decision making, public speaking, self-assessment and teamwork.
Sessions generally run 90 minutes to two hours and culminate with students creating a personal action plan for pursuing their entrepreneurial ideas. In addition to the digital tools and content, experienced business owners are invited to share their real-world experiences by volunteering to talk in the classroom.
How to Learn More
To learn more about getting involved with JA as a volunteer, educator or student, visit www.JA.org. There’s also a JA Build Your Future app that helps teens, parents and teachers assess the costs of starting a business or pursuing nearly 100 different careers, in easy-to-understand numbers.
The app works on Apple and Android phones and tablets, and is available in the Apple app store or Google Play. There’s also an online version available on the Junior Achievement website.
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