“The two best days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”
Takeshia Rhynes, a vibrant, young black woman, lived a tough life in south Chicago. The day she found out why she was born is the day many foster children in Georgia got a second chance for a better life.
Takeshia is one of a few young entrepreneurs at an IXOYE Global Entrepreneurship Network (IXGEN) workshop held Saturday, November 23, 2013 in Decatur, GA. CEO Emmenette Mason founded IXGEN, a Christian-based nonprofit organization that encourages, promotes and facilitates global entrepreneurship among and between micro entrepreneurs in the USA and Africa. Mason’s vision is to change lives through micro-entrepreneurship and to expand global perspectives.
“Entrepreneurship has a huge global reach,” said Mason. “It isn’t just local. Every time you start a business, it affects the global economy.”
The one-day empowerment workshop for youth and young adults from around Metro Atlanta taught them how to link their stories to entrepreneurism. They learned how to tell their stories, see how those stories influence their lives, and how to use them to create, develop, and grow their personal or business brands. The theme of the workshop was story telling: “Your Story Matters — Tell Your Story, Build Your Business.”
We got to hear the stories of three young entrepreneurs, one not even old enough to drive a car. According to Kimberly Oberheu of PFI and one of the facilitators, each story contained the same thread we are all familiar with: The Hero’s Journey — classic stories of success while overcoming obstacles. These kids have something else in common: they understood themselves and their skills, a much needed ingredient for entrepreneurial success. Each shared their experience of how they became an entrepreneur; each touched me in a different way. One had me on the verge of tears.
Young EntrepreneursTakeshia Rhynes was raised by her grandparents on the south side of Chicago. She attended three different high schools, but managed to graduate on time. Parents didn’t want their kids to hang out with her because she was an undesirable. Despite her poor conditions, she knew she wanted to be successful. After a successful run in sales with Comcast (#1 salesperson in Atlanta), she figured out her “why”: teaching young people to use the experiences of their past to build their future. She is the CEO and founder of A Change Generation, where she strives to change the lives of young people, one generation at a time. Her organization provides services that enable youth 18 – 21 who have transitioned out of foster care to live a better life. They provide them with a residence and food, and teach life and social skills. Their goal is to teach those who are down in the face of adversity (primarily foster kids) and teach them how to live a self-sufficient life no matter how much travail they’ve been through. Takeshia, a certified life coach, encourages at-risk young adults to find the one thing they do well, to find the skills that makes them unique, and use those skills to make a difference.
“You may have to go through different other skills for you to find out what you’re really good at,” Takeshia said. “Life is about risk. If you don’t take a risk, you never know where you can go. It’s like a game without a loss.”
Takeshia, who compares her life to a boxing match, takes her difficult life to inspire others to reach for success even if they’ve been knocked down and out. It’s always possible to come back as a reigning champion.
Bruce Phifer got his start as an entrepreneur at his mom’s yard sale in 2005. When she put one of his toys out he didn’t want sold, he took
it back to his house. But a woman stopped him and offered him $1 for the toy. He took the dollar. That began his career shipping toys across the world through his shop God’s Personal Property on eBay, and by January, his company’s total sales will have earned $200,000. He said that financial independence should come at an early age.
“The more young people with their own stream of income will provide a better understanding of finances,” said Phifer.
Trent Williams, CEO of Jewelry Funds, who has a heart of gold, started his business at the tender age of 12 to help his mother pay for his tuition at Woodward Academy. He wasn’t the best speaker in the house, but he knows how to listen. As an Atlanta vendor of jewelry, Trent gets to meet a lot of different people. When customers don’t see what they’re looking for, he tries to find it, and then let that customer know when he has what they want. Once he saw a woman looking at earrings who didn’t make a purchase because she didn’t have pierced ears. He made it a point to add clip-on earrings to his inventory.
Each of the facilitators have entrepreneurial backgrounds that contribute to the success of young entrepreneurs: finding your passion, discovering what you’re born to do, empowering women, and building strong economic communities. Stephen Zehnder brought his talent as a homeschool enrichment specialist (TrueNorth Homeschool), pastor, engineer and dynamic speaking skills to compare the story of Moses to entrepreneurship. Farah Akbar of Scribe described her first experience with entrepreneurship at the age of 9 when she read a children’s finance book that inspired her to open a newspaper route. Kat Altine is a confidence coach for women and an award winning businesswoman. In addition to being a personal coach, small business strategist, facilitator and motivational speaker, she runs a few of her own businesses in the travel industry (The Dream Travel Group) and custom jewelry (The Origami Owl).
The workshop was geared toward youth, but anyone can take a lesson away from this experience. Personally, I was inspired by the young entrepreneurs who shared their stories, impressed by the teens who showed up to learn how to build their future and encouraged by those who are enabling them.
Religion is laced throughout the workshop, but it isn’t the primary focus of the lesson. Using stories from the Bible is a way to associate familiar stories with a concept that doesn’t come naturally to everyone.
“It’s allowing people to see value in entrepreneurship,” said Oberheu. “Everything in life is fodder for good stories.”
For teens, entrepreneurship can show them that they have a story to tell. The Youth Empowerment Program (iYEP) is designed to interest kids to tell their story. It also helps kids find their identity and accept where they are in life, and inform them that it doesn’t take much to start a business.
“We try to catch them in the time when they’re most impressionable,” said Zehnder. “We ask questions like ‘who are you?’ and ‘what make you unique?’”
The workshop identified the need to ask for help when need and seek out free resources like Score that can be a useful catalyst when starting a business. Though everyone can’t be an entrepreneur, iYEP teaches kids the skills of an entrepreneur.
Words of advice from young entrepreneurs:
“Get up. Go out. And go get it.” Bruce Phifer
“Beg everyone you know to help start you up.” Trent Williams
“You got to be your own coach sometimes. Motivate yourself. You’re your number one fan.” Takeshia Rhynes