If all extraordinary students knew they were exceptional, the world would be a much more entrepreneurial place, said Sandy Kemper.
“It’s the future of our city,” said Kemper, co-founder of YEP KC, about young talent. “If we can capture them early, before they go to college, we can create a network that can sustain them here in Kansas City.”
Kemper is also the CEO of one of Kansas City’s fastest growing companies C2FO. To keep and attract young talent to Kansas City, Kemper co-founded the nonprofit YEP KC in 2016 with his wife Christine Kemper along with C2FO employees Aditya Devurkar, Jeremy Colwell, Jordan Van Winkle and Kyle Hattock.
YEP KC matches young entrepreneurial spirits — junior and seniors in high school — with high-growth and startup companies across the Kansas City metro for summer internships. The program is split into two four-week sessions, so each student gets a chance to interact with at least two companies, Kemper said.
“Kansas City has so many great attributes and there already are a lot of young people coming back for the entrepreneurial environment,” Kemper said. “This is just a little extra added advantage to those who we think are pretty extraordinary to know that we’ll be there for them when they return. When it comes time for them to start a company, they know they’ve got an active, supportive network here in Kansas City.”
In 2017, the internship program attracted more than 130 applicants from all parts of the metro, with 14 students selected. In addition to being compensated $500 per 40 hour work week, each YEP KC student is awarded a $5,000 college scholarship upon successful completion of the eight-week program.
“We believe entrepreneurship is the solution for most problems in every city,” said co-founder Devurkar. “As Kansas City increasingly takes a national stage, we wanted to look at what can we do in the place that we are in to create a community that we can support and create avenues for people to express their entrepreneurial skill set.”
Last summer, YEP KC partnered with such high-growth companies as C2FO, Fishtech, Blooom, EyeVerify, Indigo Wild and Dimensional Innovations. The nonprofit provides a dollar-for-dollar match for labor and scholarship costs, Kemper said.
“This is a very nice way for corporations to get the benefit of very talented young people and future entrepreneurs at a cost point that’s very attractive, because we cover half of it,” Kemper said. “And it’s attractive for the students. Most internships today, you go to just one company and are stuck someplace. YEP KC interns get direct access to high-growth, startup CEOs.”
Program organizers are now looking for two more companies for 2018 summer partnerships, said Jenna Felsen, YEP KC program director. With the plan to accept 20 students next year, the application process will begin in December, she added.
“We obviously want high-achieving students, but character is another really huge thing for us,” Felsen said. “One thing that comes to mind is curiosity as well as being a self-starter and being driven. That’s huge for us. The grades might not even matter if they’ve had a cool experience.”
Chris Costello, CEO of Blooom, had such a great experience partnering with YEP KC that he offered full-time positions to two of his summer interns, he said.
“I was just blown away by how helpful, confident and mature our interns were,” Costello said. “The best way I can describe it is just thinking back to when I was just graduating high school and how much further along these guys are than where I was at age 17 or 18.”
For a growing startup, it’s highly valuable to have access to fresh, young eyes on what you’re building, Costello said.
“Most companies these days are at a minimum interested or at a maximum focused on marketing to young people,” he said. “Technology changes so fast, so it’s nice to have the perspective of somebody who might be plugged into some of these new mediums. … That type of high school or college-aged person is very helpful to a company who desires to message to a younger demographic.
YEP KC originally was formed out of Kemper’s desire to challenge some of C2FO’s top-performing employees, Kemper said.
“We sat around a table and I said, ‘You guys have extreme potential to be leaders beyond what you’re doing today in the company,’” Kemper said of YEP KC co-founders Devurkar, Colwell, Van Winkle and Hattock. “‘Let’s see how you all do if you take responsibility for something.’”
Although YEP KC has the Kemper name behind it, the nonprofit wouldn’t exist without the talented young people spearheading the effort, Kemper said. As the nonprofit grows, it plans to establish a tight-knit, alumni mentor network, he added.