Written by: Dimitri Zakharov, Youth Programs Committee Member

Creating equity through entrepreneurship starts by empowering ChangeMakers of all ages. That’s why we’re so proud of our Youth ChangeMaker Summits, where we see our mission to build the future leaders of Arizona in action. 

Youth ChangeMaker Summit (YCMS) is a 3-day introduction to the entrepreneurial community for high school students held multiple times throughout the year. Launched four years ago, we have now had over 500 participants who have prepared and pitched dozens of brand new business ideas. YCMS helps these youth recognize their full potential as Arizona’s future business leaders who can change the world through venture creation.

Even more impressive, our YCMS is now 100 percent youth-led! That’s right – every Summit we host is now completely organized and facilitated by former participants who want to apply their skills and help others realize their potential. This makes us the first youth-led entrepreneurship training program in Arizona!

Back in 2018, we realized that three days just wasn’t enough for our young participants. Having gone through the exciting and challenging process of building their business plans from scratch and pitching in front of a panel of judges, these ChangeMakers wanted to continue their journey and keep the momentum going. We created the HOOT Squad as a program for ChangeMakers to continue learning and developing their professional skills.

Meeting regularly, the HOOT Squad engaged in further skills sessions, learned from Arizona business leaders, and practiced facilitating. Then, in 2019, the idea came! CO+HOOTS Foundation would empower our HOOT Squad to apply these new skills by running programming themselves- the YCMS events!

Today, our team of high school and college students, all former Changemaker participants, organize all aspects of the event, including finding venues and food vendors, recruiting mentors and judges, securing sponsorship, marketing, and making sure the days run smoothly. 

“What the team means to me is unity,” says Gerardo Ramirez, a high school senior who plans to study cybersecurity. “When it comes to working as a team, we are always there for each other. Without all of us working together and doing our best at all times, these events would not happen. We are the youth that are helping shape entrepreneurship.”

HOOT Squad allows this group of youth to foster local communities of entrepreneurs directly through the summits that they plan. For them, this isn’t just a practice activity – this is the real deal. Putting on a complex event like this isn’t easy, and the months-long process provides a hands-on experience that teaches them real-world skills. Just like with their business plans, they must form teams to hit milestones, build tools to work effectively, coordinate with a variety of partners, write effective communications for all stakeholders, and work through challenges to meet a deadline.

Most importantly, they’re building a better future for Arizona and its economy. Having gone through the transformative Summit themselves and learned lessons for their careers, they are now scaling this impact for others. We are incredibly proud of their dedication to passing on this experience to future generations of leaders.

As a non-profit, this wouldn’t be possible without the support of individuals like yourself. You can support student rides to YCMS through Hop Skip Drive, a safe transportation service for youth, by donating here. Our Summits also rely on donations and sponsors to support the scholarships to winning teams. You can pledge your support or register your ChangeMaker here