Empowering Youth Entrepreneurs in Illinois

High school teens in Springfield Illinois start an entrepreneurship program focused on confidence, problem solving, empathy, the design process, persistence, optimism

Program Summary

Length: 17 weeks
Setting: Afterschool
Ages: High school students
Location: Springfield, Illinois
Resource: VentureLab Idea to Pitch program
Culminating Event: Student showcase
Outcome Highlights: Every student improved public speaking, learned to embrace failure, and developed business models.

 The Springfield Project (TSP) is a a 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency in Springfield, Illinois whose mission is to empower low-income and minority citizens to identify and solve local problems through collaboration and partnership. They focus on serving traditionally underserved and underrepresented neighborhoods in their area.

Through a 17-week afterschool program that implemented VentureLab’s Idea to Pitch program, students from underserved neighborhoods gained entrepreneurial skills. TSP staff and teens accomplished so much together!

Educators' Reflections

A person with long curly braids smiles at the camera, wearing a white shirt with a black garment over it, proudly showcasing their Springfield High School Entrepreneurship badge against a plain background.

“ The most exciting part of the [Idea to Pitch] program is being able to give back and inspire the youth who do not have all of the resources. This is all about empowering the success of the youth.”

Kamyla Gooden – Innovation Coordinator

Circular badge logo with the text "Entrepreneurial ESTEAM Education" enclosing the letter "f" in the center, adorned with a ribbon at the bottom, set against a green background.

Educators and adults supporting youth are the most entrepreneurial people we know. They empathize, problem solve, creatively use resources, and adapt to change.

Kamyla Gooden, Innovation Coordinator, praised the program for inspiring and empowering youth who lack resources. She exemplified the “Embracing Failure” mindset, consistently attending check-ins with a positive attitude, ready to discuss both successes and challenges.

Unique Program Features and Real Impact from VentureLab’s Program

Kamyla and her staff went above and beyond to provide the best and most engaging learning experience possible for their students. She created an online Jeopardy game for students to review business vocabulary… while having a friendly competition. 

Tawahan Armstrong, Head of Facilities, shared his personal journey with the students and the lessons he learned as a youth that they could benefit from. The phrase “connection before correction” applies to how Tawahan, and the entire TSP staff, focused on prioritizing relationships with their students.

ESTEAM = Entrepreneurship + STEM

90% of students reported being more interested in STEM after Idea to Pitch.
Data from TSP’s Idea to Pitch Program Impact Report. Read more about VentureLab’s approach to Entrepreneurial Learning and STEM education.

ESTEAM stands for Entrepreneurship, Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. It’s an integrated educational approach that VentureLab uses to prepare students for the future by combining these critical areas of learning.

Kamyla and the TSP staff used VentureLab’s Idea to Pitch Program to teach students to be curious, think creatively, and work collaboratively. Activities in the Idea to Pitch curriculum are designed to inspire these qualities, making STEM learning more engaging and effective.

TSP started the program by playing Wacky Inventions, which prompts students to combine two ordinary objects into an innovate idea they pitch to their peers. They had to work with their partner, apply curiosity by asking “What if…”, and flex their creative thinking muscles. This process of ideating solutions and communicating ideas is a key characteristic of professionals in STEM careers. It’s one of many ways that VentureLab’s Idea to Pitch Program brings STEM and the arts to life.

Culminating Event with the Community

TSP planned their culminating event before starting their teen entrepreneurship program. They planned a business fair where students showcased their entrepreneurial idea and explained their ideation process.

Each student used a tri-fold board and VentureLab’s Program Reflection Questionnaire to organize and present their work. TSP staff, family, and community members were invited to visit each student’s station, to hear their “pitch”, and to learn more about the student.

High school entrepreneurship program data outcomes

After the program, EVERY student reported they learned how to embrace failure, improved public speaking skills, and learned how to create business models. Additionally, 90% of students in this program reported being more interested in STEM.

TSP was provided a full report based on the data collected at the end of the program using VentureLab’s survey tools.


This partnership is just one example of how, together, we can inspire and equip the next generation of diverse innovators and changemakers. We are excited to continue to expand our reach and foster entrepreneurship education for all youth.

Do you want similar outcomes for your staff and students?

Schedule an exploratory call with Scott Mann, our Director of Education, or contact us about your needs.

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