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YELL-ing into Richmond's future

Program aims to foster students' entrepreneurial spirit and skills
Planning to nurture a group of young entrepreneurs with their YELL program in three public school districts, including Richmond, are (from left) Punit Dhillon, Rattan Bagga and Richmond’s Amit Sandhu, a McNair grad who is CEO of his family’s development firm, Ampri Group.

Some lessons can't be learned strictly from a book, especially when it comes to being a budding entrepreneur.

That's the push behind a program called YELL (Young Entrepreneur Leadership Launchpad) that still has some seats available for Grade 11 and 12 students in Richmond for the coming school year.

"Basically, what we're trying to do is create an ecosystem where students not only learn from educators, but also from mentors in the business community," said former McNair secondary and SFU business grad Amit Sandhu, who, along with two business colleagues - Rattan Bagga, CEO of New World Foods and Punit Dhillon, CEO of OnoSec Medical - founded the non-profit organization last year.

"We want to provide different views on careers for students who get to do this in a hands-on, collaborative and multidisciplinary way," Sandhu said, adding the overall goal is to tie together their school studies with their time at YELL, which earns them credits toward graduation and to produce a business plan of their choosing.

Sandhu said he values the mentorship model of learning, one he experienced while climbing up the ranks to become CEO of his family-owned real estate development and investment business, Ampri Group.

"My father, and my uncles, I had all these people to rely on and look up to and see how they handled themselves through business and starting new ventures," he said. "I was fortunate enough to have that."

Sandhu said he wants to make a bigger impact by helping others gain new skills, explore different opportunities and turn them from "job takers to job makers."

The basis of the program is to instil in the students that entrepreneurship is a way of thinking.

"It's a foundational skill that all students should have, regardless if they are going into the sciences, arts or other fields," Sandhu said. "Everyone can use entrepreneurial

thinking." The program consists of nine, weekly two and a half hour sessions starting at the outset of the school year, and an "Idea Incubator" phase beginning in January, when students write business plans and prepare for presentations.

"It's everything from business law and marketing, to branding and communication skills," Sandhu said, adding half of the time the content is delivered by a teacher at Hugh Boyd secondary where YELL will be located. School districts in West Vancouver and Coquitlam have also signed on to the program and are already oversubscribed.

The remaining class time is dedicated to a local business person - who will serve as the session's guest speaker - and a chance for the students to take part in a workshop.

When the students enter the second phase of the program in January they are joined by a mentor - a leading member of the local business community.

"They work alongside that person and get guidance for their business plan on an idea they are personally passionate about," Sandhu said.

With the current labour dispute in the public school system threatening to carry over to the coming school year, Sandhu said YELL has adjusted its start dates in West Vancouver and Coquiltam, pushing them back by two weeks.

While there has not been a change to the Richmond schedule, plans are to remain flexible. Those plans are then entered in a competition in April called the Venture Challenge.

To apply for the remaining seats in Richmond, visit and click on the apply tab at the top of the page for the Richmond registration link.