Meet Young Entrepreneurs Academy

Innovators |

Meredith SperanzaMeet Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!)

Meredith Speranza
Program Manager



In A Nutshell . . . Tell Us About Your Startup Resource.

Young Entrepreneurs AcademyThe Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) at Keene State College is a groundbreaking and exciting after school class that transforms middle and high school students into real, confident entrepreneurs. Throughout the class, students develop business ideas, write business plans, conduct market research, pitch their plans to a panel of investors, file for DBAs and actually launch and run their own real, legal, fully formed companies and social movements. Complete with dynamic guest speakers from the business community and exciting behind-the-scenes trips to local companies. The fun, projects-based YEA! approach empowers students to take charge of their futures in a profound way. We just graduated our first cohort of graduates in June of this year – 15 students who launched 9 businesses. The second Academy will begin in November.

Bob Paltrineri and Florin Handelman
Owners of Gen Portal, Bob Paltrineri and Florin Handelman, pitch to local investors


What niche are you filling?

The YEA! approach is experiential and hands on—students come up with a big idea based on their passions, skills and interests, write a business plan, pitch to a panel of local investors for real dollars, and actually launch companies or social movements throughout the course of the program. This is not simulation. The YEA! program provides an opportunity for 11-18 year old students to, at a young age, figure out what their passions and interests  are, and this, in turn, helps direct their future educational path. YEA! actually takes students through the process of starting a real company or social movement, all before graduating high school…sometimes even before the student can drive. In addition to starting a business, students realize increased confidence, and self-esteem. By the mid-point of the class, at the Investor Panel, even the student who starts out as the most shy, is really able to as someone recently put it, “work a room.” We practice handshakes, eye contact, networking, elevator pitches and the importance of a first impression. These students get so excited and invested in their idea because it’s their own; whether it’s cookie baking or jewelry making, app development, sporting equipment, or art. They start talking to someone, and the excitement is visibly flowing through them. It gives me goosebumps to think about and it’s inspiring to see as it takes shape over the course of the 29-lesson program.

YEA! Students
YEA! Students anxiously await results of the judges deliberation


Who or what was your best resource in helping your program get off the ground? 

I am so proud to say that my mother was the first and best resource in bringing this program to Keene State! My mom, Gayle Jagel, is the Founder & CEO of YEA!, a business she started 11 years ago on the campus of the University of Rochester with a grant from the Kauffman Foundation. She was visiting me in Keene a couple years ago and had the opportunity meet Dr. Anne E. Huot of Keene State College and Phil Suter from the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce and pitched them the idea of bringing YEA! to the Monadnock Region. They were excited and interested, and very quickly saw the value for our local young people, our community, the region and our state. From there, I had and continue to have the pleasure of working with a team of trail blazers made up of representatives from the College and Chamber. In particular, Daniel Henderson, Corporate Relations Officer at KSC, has been one person who has helped me tremendously by opening doors so that I could make and maintain connections that would ultimately lead to wonderful relationships with business people, social entrepreneurs, educators, parents, and community-minded individuals. He and the team have been a huge contributor and reason for my success.

Alax Machado and Camden Dunbar
Ski Taco owners, Alax Machado and Camden Dunbar, joined by the YEA! Program Sponsors, Mark Fish of Markem-Imaje, John Hoffman of the Hof


What does the future look like?  

I hope to build upon the current foundation we have, and find a way to get into more classrooms, more schools, and more club meetings in order to get more students aware of and excited about entrepreneurship. Additionally, I think we have an opportunity to make business and community leaders in the towns outside of Keene involved. For example, I’d love to have students from the Peterborough area in the program, and in turn have business leaders from Peterborough join us on panels, and hosting field trips. I think the growth is already starting to happen organically, but that’s one of my goals for next year.


How can people get involved? 

We are very fortunate with how well-received the program has been locally. Guest speaking opportunities, mentor roles, instructors and field trip host spots fill very fast and I’m pleased to report that over half of the adult participants for this academic year participated in some way last year. It creates a nice continuity for the program.

That being said there are still lots of opportunities to get involved! We currently have a couple Investor judge seats open on our panel, but they will be filled quickly so if you have an interest, do not delay in reaching out to me. Do you know a student who would be a great addition to the Academy? Sessions have begun for this year but applications for next year’s Academy are already being accepted!  Or please let me know if you want to learn more about how to get involved in next year’s academic sessions as a speaker or field trip host. I can be reached on email at or by phone, 585-429-0562. I hope to hear from you!


Connect with YEA! on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook!