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Summer internship program aims to connect teens to business owners

Posted at 5:00 AM, Jan 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-24 06:00:32-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When school lets out for the summer, more than a dozen teenagers will be getting a head start on their careers.

The Young Entrepreneurs Program Kansas City, also known as YEP KC, will provide select high school students with a job, professional connections and a paycheck. It's all part of their hands-on summer internship program.

"We recruit the highest performing, really fast-paced students in Kansas City and put them into startup companies," said Jesus Garcia Fuentes, the executive director for YEP KC.

The organization works to connect local companies with students who are entrepreneurial minded. Fuentes said it's for teens who hope to own their own businesses someday. Tanner Helton said the opportunity is the coolest experience of his life.

"There's not really a better way to get to know what your strengths and weaknesses are and also build off of them," said Helton, a high school senior at Rockhurst High School. "You are thrown into a company and get to experience what it's really like."

Helton participated in the program during the summer of 2019 with an interest in technology and marketing. YEP KC placed him with Backlot Cars, a KC-based company that hosts an online marketplace for car dealerships to trade and sell their cars to other car dealerships.

"You're not treated like an intern at all. You're treated as a full-time employee when you show up day one and that really leads you to be able to contribute real work to the projects companies are working on," Helton said.

For Helton, that meant helping the company establish more efficient ways to achieve their desired goals.

"I did a lot of hacking things together with code. A lot of their internal stuff was not automated in a way that made it really efficient," Helton said.

Since completing the program, Helton and two other YEP KC alums have started their own online service, connecting homeowners and teen lawnmowers in the area.

While the program has been successful for Helton and his friends, he admits it wasn't easy to get into. Fuentes said teenage applicants must go through a tough application and interview process. They must submit a resume, a letter of recommendation and answer several questions revealing the biggest challenges they've faced and the most entrepreneurial activity they've taken on. If teens make it through the application process, they must then go through two rounds of interviews.

"I think it will be the most rigorous application process any high school student will go through," Fuentes said. "We're not trying to trip you up in these interviews. Sincerely, we're trying to connect you to people who are experts already in these fields."

Once teens get into the program, they start with four training sessions on problem solving, communication and presentation.

The summer of 2020 will be the fourth year for the summer internship program. YEP KC hopes to select 20 interns from around the Kansas City metropolitan area. The internships will run from June 1st to July 31st with a weeklong break for the 4th of July holiday.

The deadline to apply is Friday, Feb. 21. Qualified candidates will be contacted for interviews by March 13.

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