Tanya Hamilton, Founder/Executive Director of Independent Youth
By Kasey Dallman, AKOM Writer
Tanya Hamilton is an extraordinary power woman. Ms. Hamilton is the founder and executive director of Independent Youth, a non-profit organization aimed to help young people become successful young entrepreneurs. As a leading force behind the organization, Tanya has helped build strong entrepreneurs who range in ages from 12-18.
AK: What is Independent Youth, and what are its goals?
TH: Independent Youth (www.independentyouth.org) is a social enterprise 501(c)3. At Independent Youth we have one goal: empower today’s teens to become tomorrow’s business leaders and entrepreneurial innovators. Through unique programs focused on Peer-to-Peer mentorship with a Network of largely successful nationally-recognized teen entrepreneurs, and events like our annual TrepStart Day and ExploreAvision business launch competition, we engage and educate youth on entrepreneurship challenging them to develop their passions and ideas into successful businesses.
AK: What inspired you to start Independent Youth?
TH: I started developing the concept of Independent Youth back in 2009 after I was laid off from my full-time job due to a failing economy. While searching for a new job I thought, I don’t want to work for anyone else. I began brainstorming business ideas based off of my passions, experience and educational background. My interest in entrepreneurship arose from an early age, growing up in an entrepreneurial household. I also have a MBA degree with a concentration in entrepreneurship. Developing an organization around youth and entrepreneurship just made sense, especially since these are my areas of passion. After doing extensive research, I realized that there were no organizations on the national level that focused solely on teens from all backgrounds, exposing them to the power of entrepreneurship. From there, Independent Youth was born!
AK: Were there any challenges in the early phases of Independent Youth?
TH: Independent Youth’s biggest challenges was really understanding how we would effectively reach teens in a way that greatly impacted them and empowered them to go out and explore entrepreneurship further. Originally, Independent Youth was going to focus on year round camps and programs that worked with students on extensive business plans. This didn’t work for us. I felt like the reach wasn’t great enough and there was nothing that was very innovative with what we were doing. So, we decided to change directions. We decided to create Independent Youth’s Teen Entrepreneur Network (http://independentyouth.org/teen-network/), a network of nationally-recognized teen entrepreneurs from across the country that have successful businesses beyond your average lemonade stand. These teens act as representatives of Independent Youth and speak at our events and in the classrooms of some of the schools we work with to share their knowledge on various facets of entrepreneurship. We have found this to be a great way to create awareness around entrepreneurship.
AK: How can kids get involved with Independent Youth?
TH: Currently Independent Youth operates in three markets: St. Louis, MO., Charlotte, NC., and Atlanta, GA. and have aggressive expansion plans into additional markets. Currently, Independent Youth works with numerous schools in the markets it serves. For those teens who are already teen entrepreneurs, you may contact Independent Youth to be considered for a spot in IY’s Teen Entrepreneur Network as a member/presenter.
For those teens that are interested in learning more about entrepreneurship, you can have your teacher contact Independent Youth for an on-site presentation or participate in our annual TrepStart Days (http://independentyouth.org/what-we-do/teen-entrepreneurship-symposium/) which is the kick-off to IY’s ExploreAvision business launch competition and IY’s peer-to-peer mentorship program with our collegiate partner, Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization.
AK: What is the most rewarding part about working at Independent Youth?
TH: The most rewarding part of working at Independent Youth is working with my amazing teens. These teens keep me inspired and remind me daily of why I do what I do. To see the businesses of my teens evolve year after year is so exciting to me. I also love to see how engaged those who are being introduced to Independent Youth become simply through the programs and resources that Independent Youth offers. I’m so proud that Independent Youth has found an effective way to connect with the youth of today in order to expose them to something they don’t traditionally learn in the classroom, entrepreneurship. They impact spans past the individual into the community and onto the world. To show young people that the skills they are obtaining in the classroom on a daily basis can be used towards a business venture that they have the freedom to create is rewarding in itself.
AK: What advice do you have for kids who want to start their own businesses?
TH: Any passion can be translated into an entrepreneurial venture. I encourage all teens to discover their passion and go for it. Don’t get discouraged. All businesses will not succeed, but those who work hard and stick with entrepreneurship will eventually find their success. As I say, “Entrepreneurship is an adrenaline rush that never ends.”
Also, seek out good mentors. Finally, be true to yourself and the business you’ve created. You have to believe in yourself when nobody else does. Entrepreneurship is not easy but it’s worth it! I encourage young people to explore entrepreneurship while their young and have very little responsibilities because if you fail you don’t have much to lose.
AK: What are your future goals for Independent Youth?
TH: Independent Youth plans on eventually becoming the national leaders in teen entrepreneurship education through innovative techniques. We plan on continuing to expand nationwide and will eventually do more in-depth education and programming, developing our own curriculum.
AK: Anything else?
TH: Independent Youth invites you to participate in our upcoming TrepStart Days in St. Louis, MO., Charlotte, NC and Atlanta, GA (visit www.independentyouth.org for details). At this event teens learn, lunch and launch into entrepreneurial thinking by interacting with successful teen entrepreneurs from around the US. Designed as a peer-to-peer exploration of entrepreneurial thinking and achievement know-how, TrepStart Day incorporates experiential education through a keynote address, interactive breakout sessions with successful teen entrepreneurs and our ExploreAvision competition kick-off. It’s the starting line to launch into a lifetime of entrepreneurial accomplishments.
Independent Youth released its first teen entrepreneurship educational DVD in September 2013. This DVD incorporates IY Teen Entrepreneur Network members’ stories of their road to success and presentations by our teen entrepreneurs on various facets of entrepreneurship.