Business mentors needed for virtual program for Palatine-area students

  • This photo shows past participants in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy offered by the Palatine Area Chamber of Commerce. This year's program is all virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    This photo shows past participants in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy offered by the Palatine Area Chamber of Commerce. This year's program is all virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy of Palatine Area Chamber of Commerce

Updated 4/8/2021 4:21 PM

A program based in Palatine that teaches young students the skills to start a real-life business is in need of about 10 adult mentors beginning next week.

The Young Entrepreneurs Academy, a national program, is offered to 12- to 14-year-olds by the Palatine Area Chamber of Commerce in partnership with Palatine Township Elementary School District 15.


Palatine's is the only Chamber of Commerce in Illinois that offers the YEA program, said Steven Gaus, executive director of the chamber.

The chamber started offering it in 2013 in conjunction with Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211. It was so successful that a business incubator program was started at the high school, and the chamber then partnered in 2015 with District 15, Gaus said.

"We are proud that we have been able to offer this," he said.

Each session typically runs from November to May. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the current session, which has 19 students, started in February and is all on Zoom.

Mentors are needed for six weeks starting Wednesday to help students work on their business plans, which are based on a YEA template, Gaus said. Mentors and students meet one-on-one, for about an hour a week.

"We do like for our mentors to have businesses experience and maybe some entrepreneurial experience. But (it's) not required," Gaus said. "We are working with 12- to 14-year-old students, so most is common sense stuff. They just need some guidance, especially with the financial part and preparing their business plan."

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The Palatine program is mostly run by Gaus with the help of guest teachers, like business lawyers and insurance representatives. There are also business field trips, this year a virtual one with Morkes Chocolates in Palatine.

At the end of the session, students pitch their business plan to a panel of local business and community leaders. The top students gets prize money donated by sponsors.

A total $6,000 was disbursed last year, Gaus said. The top winner started a website with recipe substitutes for people with allergies and dietary restrictions, and the second-place winner launched a business making protective paw coverings for dogs, Gaus said.

Illustrator and graphic and industrial designer Dawn Pennacchia of Palatine is in her fourth year volunteering for the program. She has helped teach classes, particularly those focused on design and marketing, and served as a mentor, which she called "a wonderful experience."


"Every year I think that maybe I am spreading myself too thin with my volunteer opportunities ... but every time I think of being a mentor with YEA, it's one of those things that's at the top of my list," she said.

"I love seeing their rough ideas go from the idea stage to the brainstorming stage, carrying all the way through to when they are ready to launch their business. And to see the growth they have as students and individuals through their entire process."

Those interested in being YEA mentors should call (847) 359-7200 or email

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