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Pursuing their passion: YE Alumni

Small Business Saturday is a day to celebrate and discover small businesses — and in the Small Business Saturday spirit, here are some YE alumni-owned businesses for you to discover! Meet a few of our many alumni entrepreneurs, and learn about their growing companies.  

Name: Courtney Long

Her company: Long’s Custom Studios

Where she was a YE student: Clearwater High School (2016-2017)

Most memorable YE mindset shift moment: "YE, and most importantly my teacher, Ms. Meyer, has taught me to create opportunities, and take them when they are presented to you," Courtney says, no matter how large or small. “To be successful, you need more than just capital, more than just an idea. You need passion — passion to drive you forward. Support is also a must.”

What she loves about YE: “I love the fact that everyone cares about you. Tory Chambers, a Program Manager, has played the biggest part in that, for me." 

Launching Long’s Custom Studios: In early 2015, Courtney decided to launch her company. “In the beginning, it was just something I enjoyed doing, and I was still learning how to create my products. At the end of the first year, I had had sales, and many learning experiences. At one point, I even wanted to give up, but I didn't. I persisted and went into the YE program. YE was the main reason that I have such a successful business of my own.”

About Long’s Custom Studios today: In the model horse industry, Courtney’s company is an offshoot of major horse model company Breyer. “These horses are typically painted to look like customer's real horses, or just for collectors,” she says. “There is a market for both collectors and memorial pieces.”
Greatest obstacle she has overcome as an entrepreneur: “I have overcome wanting to quit, just dropping everything and moving on with my life,” she says, even continuing through some negativity on social media. “I stuck with it, and persisted through. Needless to say, I do not get ‘hate’ anymore!” she says.

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Name: Lizbeth Gonzalez

Her company: Wicked Graphics 

Where she was a YE student: Van Horn High School

Most memorable YE mindset shift moment: "Anyone can pursue their dream, no matter their income, background, or knowledge. The American Dream is for everyone."    

What Lizbeth loves about YE: "How much they go out of their way for their students,” she says. “YE has helped me overcome these obstacles little by little. Being able to purchase my own camera, studio lighting, Adobe programs . . . the leadership is amazing. They have always put me first."        

About Wicked Graphics: Wicked Graphics encompasses "anything and everything artistic," Lizbeth says, "from photography and film, to customized shoes, to face painting events. I wanted something that tied everything I loved together."    
Greatest obstacle she has overcome as an entrepreneur: Lizbeth's greatest obstacles have been financial, she says. "I grew up in the ghetto in both Mexico and in KC. I don’t have many resources and actually starting my company has been really hard. The fear of paperwork, of taxes, of owing money to the state when I can barely make it through." But she has pushed past the obstacles, and Wicked Graphics will officially launch this spring, paperwork and all. 

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Name: Haley Ackley

Her company: Ginger Bake Shop

Where she was a YE student: Campus High School (2014)

Most memorable YE mindset shift moment: “I was always interested in business throughout high school and thought that taking this course would give me more insight into the business world," Haley says. "I didn't realize the real world experience that I would gain throughout the year. Any business venture is possible as long as you keep the right mindset.”

What Haley loves about YE: “There are so many things I love about the YE program. You are exposed to real world business people who teach you so much without you even realizing you're learning," she remembers. "YE is more than just another class, and a great opportunity to see life outside the classroom. Everything you learn throughout YE you can take with you and apply to the real world."     

Launching Ginger Bake Shop: Haley started Ginger Bake Shop in 2015, after realizing that her love for baking had business potential. “I have always had a passion for baking, so I decided to take it to the next level. In the beginning I mainly sold cake balls and cupcakes, and now Ginger Bake Shop tackles everything from cake balls and cupcakes to cookie cakes and wedding cakes."

About Ginger Bake Shop today: Ginger Bake Shop's products include cake balls, cupcakes, cookies, specialty cakes, and a few various pastries. Haley operates her bakery out of her home. "I launched this business to prove to myself as well as others that baking can be more than just a hobby."     

Greatest obstacle she has overcome as an entrepreneur: "The biggest obstacle I have overcome as an entrepreneur is getting people to take you seriously. People don't always see baking as a real profession, but more as a hobby," she says. "Also being a young entrepreneur, people don't think you have the discipline and maturity to start a business." But nevertheless, Ginger Bake Shop is succeeding today.  

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Name: Ricardo Dominguez    

His company: Ricky's Freelance Photography    

Where he was a YE student: Wyandotte High School (2013-14)

Most memorable YE mindset shift moment: Ricardo puts it simply — "Work hard for what you want and, eventually, things fall into place. I have started a small business and graduated from college because of YE."     

What Ricardo loves about YE: "I love being able to have experiences I never had before YE," Ricardo says. For example, he was able to take trips to learn about entrepreneurship in the real world. "YE gave me the courage, the knowledge and the funds to start my company. Without them, this wouldn't have been possible and I thank YE so much for giving me all the opportunities that they have over the years."    

Launching Ricky’s Freelance Photography: Ricardo originally started this company under the name Ricky's Light Journal, having since renamed it to Ricky's Freelance Photography for stronger brand visibility. "I launched it because I had a knack for photo and video that I found when creating projects for YE.”    

About Ricky’s Freelance Photography today: "I provide quality and affordable photography services in Kansas City. I have built a niche around that which has helped me grow recently."    

Greatest obstacle he has overcome as an entrepreneur: "As an entrepreneur, you are the accountant, the tax person, the IT guy for the website, the social media manager and essentially the face of the company. There are many hats an entrepreneur needs to wear and it can get hectic and stressful at times," Ricardo reflects. "But in the end, it's worth it."

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27,000 alumni have been impacted by Youth Entrepreneurs over our history. Explore more of our alumni success stories.