Community Engagement

Mentoring the Next Generation of Tech Entrepreneurs with Junior Achievement of Northern New England

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Over the past three years, Wayfair has partnered with Junior Achievement of Northern New England, a national organization whose mission is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed. Each year, they hold their Company Program, an event where high school students get together to innovate, create, and build a company and product from scratch. Through this partnership with JA, Wayfair employees have dedicated themselves as mentors and offered their subject matter expertise to students as they navigate their projects.

Drew Smith, Senior Analyst on Wayfair’s Core Integrations team, has participated in this program for several years, and finds that working with these high school students brings a “completely different bucket of energy,” while being incredibly rewarding as well. Over the course of his involvement, Drew continues to be amazed by how the Company Program provides these students a phenomenal advancement in their personal development. “Having this sort of practice working collaboratively to achieve a goal together is an amazing perspective for students of their age.”

Watching the students’ confidence build and watching them see that actually through the program, they are empowered to control their futures is one of my favorite things about working for JA.
Valerie Brooks, Senior Program Manager, Entrepreneurship Pathway at JA

For the students, the Company Program offers the opportunity to think critically about their communities, and pose solutions to problems they see. “Many students still define success as getting out of their communities,'' says Valerie Brooks, Senior Program Manager of the Entrepreneurship Pathway at Junior Achievement of Northern New England. “But through this kind of entrepreneurship, it teaches students that they can stay in their community, become successful while still giving back to your community and helping it grow.”

According to Valerie, the Company Program is as much about harnessing problem solving and creative thinking from students as it is about changing the narrative to teach students that you don’t have to leave your community to be successful. By immersing themselves in their communities and trying to solve prevalent problems, they can be successful in making a positive contribution to their communities.

Alongside their Wayfair mentors, the students have created companies such as “Revolt” – a hand-crank charger that delivers power anywhere, any place; “FiltAir USA” – an air filter that attaches to a bicycle’s handlebars, and takes certain chemicals out of the air; and this year’s product, “WhiteNote” – a white-board notebook which is an alternative to scrap paper for students, teachers, and many others.

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The experience is rewarding for both Wayfair employees and students.

“This year was a really great learning experience,” shared Iris, a student involved in the JA Company Program. “We received a lot of important and helpful feedback from our mentors and they really supported us through any problems we had, like sourcing our product, and they provided their feedback for how to market our product and sales, and organize our finances. It was really valuable for our team because for a lot of our members, it was their first year ever doing the JA program and ever doing something related to business – so it was really important that the mentors were there to support us. I just want to thank them for everything they did for us because it was really amazing to have them there.”

The Company Program is about more than solving a problem through creating a product. JA and the Company Program specifically help to narrow the opportunity gap. Many of these students don’t have the network of people around them who can help them navigate the professional world. When students come into the office to get advice on their company, they also meet dozens of Wayfair employees across different parts of the business, who show the students that a job at a company like Wayfair is a viable option for them. “Through the Company Program, we’re opening doors to these students to inspire them that there are viable options, within their interests, right in their backyard,” added Valerie.

Drew still stays in contact with several of the past students he’s worked with as an informal mentor. “The fact that these students are seeking out mentors as high schoolers to guide them through professional experiences is unbelievable.”

Most recently, Wayfair hosted a career fair with JA students who got to learn about the different roles at Wayfair and how each employee got to where they are. In the future, Wayfair hopes to join JA in their schools through the program “JA For a Day” where employees spend a day in the schools, owning the curriculum and teaching the students. Through these different programs — both with students coming into the office, and employees going into their schools — students get the opportunity to learn from the employees and get exposure to different careers to show them all the viable options for them in the future.

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The mentors from Wayfair bring strong value to the students and their overall experience in the program. Yating, another student who participated in the Company Program this year, said that “the experience of starting a business through the JA Company Program with my team and mentors taught me a lot and helped me develop important skills. The mentors helped us build our company and overcome obstacles by sharing valuable advice and feedback.”

Wayfair’s partnership with JA continues to grow, including plans to furnish the Junior Achievement “Makers Studio” located in Charlestown, MA, where students can innovate, create their products for their companies, and collaborate together – all words we love at Wayfair!

“Through the Company Program, students are working with corporate executives, pitching products to dozens and dozens of people, they’re calling suppliers to fix their products when things are wrong, and finding their voice,” added Valerie. Developing financial literacy and career readiness allows the students to think critically and be successful in the outside world. “Watching the students’ confidence build and watching them see that actually through the program, they are empowered to control their futures is one of my favorite things about working for JA.”

Read more about Junior Achievement here and reach out to Val Brooks if you want to learn more about how to get involved!

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