On Tuesday, April 27, I presented my senior policy thesis, a program evaluation on Young Entrepreneurs of Providence (YEP!). YEP! is a completely free entrepreneurship incubator program for Providence public high school students hosted at the Nelson Center. Every week, Brown professors, entrepreneurs, and social impact leaders teach YEP! students key entrepreneurial concepts that they apply to a venture they develop. Over the past two and a half years, YEP! has worked with 100 brilliant students from 11 different schools throughout Rhode Island.
YEP! was developed with two missions:
The first aim of YEP! is to develop capable entrepreneurs that will grow the prosperity of their respective communities. The current imbalances in wealth in the United States make it critical that we develop innovative solutions to stimulate wealth in low-income communities. By creating an early entrepreneurial education program, YEP! hopes to develop innovative entrepreneurs that will grow the wealth of communities with high poverty rates like Providence.
YEP! ‘s second aim is to improve the relationship between college campuses and their surrounding communities. The extreme imbalance of wealth in this nation is reflected in the resource discrepancy between elite universities and their surrounding communities. Every Ivy League university except for Harvard and Dartmouth is surrounded by a town with a poverty rate higher than the national average, 14%. Through developing a program that invites Providence public school students onto Brown’s campus, YEP! strives to create a more bilateral relationship between Providence and Brown.
In order to assess whether YEP! is able to achieve its two goals of producing capable entrepreneurs and strengthening Brown’s relationship with Providence, I conducted interviews with 80% of our alumni. The results of the study conclude that YEP! has demonstrable gains on both fronts.
Entrepreneurial Knowledge and Capability
In terms of YEP! ‘s potential to produce capable entrepreneurs, the results of the study found that after the incubator:
- 83% of YEP! ‘s participants believed they had sufficient knowledge to start a venture despite having no prior exposure to entrepreneurship
- 83% of the participants interviewed have launched or are in the process of launching their own venture in Providence
One participant shared that before YEP! they “did not know how to spell entrepreneurship.” But, they said, “Every night I would watch my parents come home late at night, and they were exhausted and sad. I wanted to create a better life for them and myself. I knew I wanted to create my own business, so I applied for YEP!” This student has currently made this dream a reality as they are on a gap year from college to start their own cosmetics business.
The advanced level of entrepreneurial knowledge that YEP! participants gained in the program suggests that it may be a meaningful tool to develop capable entrepreneurs in people with little to no exposure to entrepreneurship. Additionally, the high degree of entrepreneurial activity from participants suggests that YEP! has the potential to stimulate entrepreneurship in low-income communities.
The results from the study also suggest that YEP! has the potential to improve town-gown relations. 75% of our participants’ perception of Brown changed from unwelcoming to welcoming after the incubator.
Many students shared that before YEP! they were too afraid to even walk down Thayer Street. After YEP!, though, their perception of Brown changed drastically. By coming to campus, the majority of participants started to see Brown as a place that was welcome to them and that they could utilize. Our students frequently use Brown’s public resources and can be found nearby campus even after the incubator.
An unexpected result was that inviting Providence students on to campus not only changed their perception of Brown University, it changed their perception of what they could achieve. One student spoke about this experience by saying; “I would have never imagined that Brown would invite me or students at my school on to campus. We don’t have millionaire parents. The fact that you all wanted us. It changed things for me.”
This student, along with 50% of the students interviewed, said that they decided to apply to more academically rigorous universities after YEP!. In fact, two of the alumni interviewed are applying to transfer to Brown.
The results from this study suggest that a program like YEP! has the potential to make elite universities feel less insular and more welcoming to the local community. In doing so, YEP! is able to foster better town-gown relations and impact the trajectories of its participants.
Overall, the results of this thesis conclude that YEP! has the potential to both develop entrepreneurs in low-income communities and improve town-gown relations. At the end of the day, though, it is not our program that has done this; it is our students. If there is one thing that you take away from this blog post, I hope you see the power of Providence students. Our future depends on these students and other students throughout America- and we are in good hands- but only if we give them the opportunities, they need to flourish.
Watch Audrey Shapiro’s Thesis Presentation below.