Go Back

Our Stories

Staff Spotlight: Meet Sandy Marek

As Youth Entrepreneurs expands to a new market, Sandy Marek looks forward to leading the charge as Executive Director of the Upper Midwest Region. “I’m inspired by the people of Youth Entrepreneurs and I am eager to expose students and teachers to everything this organization has to offer.” Get to know Sandy Marek.

Before YE: After graduating from the University of Arizona with a double major in Sociology and Psychology, Sandy worked on the marketing team at Orange Tree Golf Resort in Scottsdale, AZ. She continued her career in California, doing public relations and marketing in the entertainment industry. “I worked for an organization that represented comedians and got to work with Louie Anderson, Stephen Wright and the Smothers Brothers,” Sandy recalls. 

Her Chicago transition: When her stepfather passed away, Sandy relocated to her hometown of Chicago. “Having worked with for-profits for such a long time, I took the opportunity to think about what I truly wanted to do,” Sandy says. She took a role overseeing logistics for an AIDS research fundraising bike ride of 1,800 riders and 500 crew members. 

Serving at the Shedd Aquarium: A friend shared a job opportunity at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium with Sandy and her interest was piqued. “Being from Chicago, I knew what a gem the Shedd Aquarium is,” she said. The largest indoor aquarium in the world, the Shedd hosts more than two million visitors a year. She jumped aboard as Promotions Coordinator, and rose up the ranks through promotions, marketing and development. Her responsibilities included not only marketing exhibits and driving attendance, but also cultivating brand awareness, donor development and corporate sponsorship expansion. In 2011, Sandy stepped into the Senior Vice President of Development role. “I’ve been able to integrate marketing, branding and sales with sponsorships and corporate partnerships, as well as employee engagement.” 

What brought her to YE: In 2017, YE donor Bruce Lee introduced Sandy to the organization by inviting her to a pitch event. “I was simply blown away by the work that Youth Entrepreneurs does,” she says. “Watching these kids present their amazing ideas for businesses and hearing stories of past winners . . . it was just so motivating. I’m now a mother of two small kids and I see the world very differently.” So when YE announced its expansion into a new market, Sandy jumped at the chance. Today, she is the Executive Director for the Upper Midwest Region.

Expanding the Youth Entrepreneurs vision: “I’m looking forward to bringing this valuable program to the Midwest, with the Chicago area to start,” Sandy says. “My role includes getting schools excited and signed up for the program, networking and brand awareness, partnering with donors and other organizations that align with YE. I’m eager to maximize all that YE has to offer and build out an amazing program.”

Why she is passionate about YE: “As a mom of two small kids, I love the fact that Youth Entrepreneurs helps kids,” Sandy says. “I personally would have loved to have this program in my own high school when I was growing up. The skills YE teaches are evergreen. They’re lifelong lessons. No matter what you do and where you go, these skills will translate so well and help these kids to succeed as adults. It warms my heart to think that I’m part of an organization that can change the lives of kids. It makes me feel good about going to work every day and making an impact.”

What entrepreneurship means to her: “Being an entrepreneur, to me, means taking the skills that you have learned and making or creating something of your own. Entrepreneurship means listening to what the market needs and utilizing your skills to create value.”

Family: Sandy and her husband will celebrate 15 years of marriage this year, and they have two children. Both kids love the ice — their 10-year-old daughter is an ice skater and six-year-old son is a hockey player. Entrepreneurism has special meaning for their family, as Sandy’s husband is a business owner himself. 

Outside work: Sandy spends lots of time at the ice rink with her children, but when the weather is warm, the family loves spending time boating. Sandy also enjoys playing tennis and golf.

Sandy’s hidden talent: “I think it would surprise people that I’m a pretty good cook,” Sandy says. She cooks many different meals, but her favorite dish to cook is chicken piccata. 

One piece of advice to her high school self: “I would tell my high school self to not be so conservative and to take more risks,” Sandy says.

Entrepreneurs Sandy admires: Sandy is a first-generation American, with her family coming to the United States from Europe. “I’ve seen so many of my family members come here with nothing, and start their own businesses. My stepfather started a tool business that sold tools to airlines and many big businesses, and he grew it into a very large company. My aunt had a beauty shop, my grandfather had a frame business, another aunt got her teaching degree . . . I’ve seen them grow their businesses from scratch to success, and that to me is very motivating.” 

Meet more of the professionals who are passionately driven to strengthen Youth Entrepreneurs in our Staff Spotlights