Deborah Sternberg wants to know: “How can we make the world a better place?”

Deborah Sternberg wants to know: "How can we make the world a better place?"
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Deborah Sternberg began her career as a driver for Mary Landrieu in her run for governor of Louisiana, then later served as deputy chief of staff when she was a U.S. Senator. Following her time on Capitol Hill, Sternberg joined CBS News as an associate producer, where she worked closely with news veteran Dan Rather. 

Returning home to Louisiana, Sternberg took on the role of president of Starmount Life, her family’s insurance business. Following the sale of Starmount to Unum, Sternberg found herself in an exciting position to give back. She launched the Young Entrepreneurs Academy of Baton Rouge, an after-school program that transforms high school students into confident entrepreneurs.

Tell us about the mission of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy of Baton Rouge.

The mission is to unlock the potential of young, aspiring entrepreneurs in the greater Baton Rouge, nine-parish region. We have eighth through 12th grade students involved in the academy. We take a select group, 25 to 26 students every year, and they come up with what their passions are and what the problems that they see in the world are and come up with a business idea, whether it’s for profit or nonprofit.

From left are Deborah Sternburg, chair of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy of Baton Rouge; Sarah Haneline of BASF; and Sarah Munson of YEA BR.

The program really helps young people stand out from the crowd if they’re able to, at ages 13 to 18, understand the fundamentals of business in a real way. They’re writing an actual business plan and filing their start-up with the Secretary of State’s office. This is not a simulation — they are filing legitimate LLCs.

We have three events that are open to the public during the year. In January, the CEO roundtable. In March, the community pitch and then graduation at the end of April. This year, our graduation ceremony is April 26.

At the pitch event, there’s a panel of judges who invest in every business — there’s a pool of $25,000, and the judges determine how much each business receives. 

Do you think that, below the surface, you’re teaching these students the importance of being passionate about work? 

That’s how we steer them the first six weeks of class. Let’s think about what you’re interested in. Let’s talk about what you’re passionate about because, honestly, if you’re going to start something new, it won’t work if you’re tired of it in about three days. You have to find things that you wake up every day and you’re excited about. It won’t be every day, but certainly, the majority of your time is going to be spent on this business, so let’s find something that makes you excited. 

What is the impact of the program on the students?

There is no question that they gain confidence. At orientation in September, we ask that they stand up one at a time and introduce themselves, and they are so hesitant to stand up.

Then, fast forward to January during the CEO roundtable, they have to ask questions of executives from the region. It’s open to the public, so there are typically 200 people, and one after another, without hesitation, they can stand up in front of 200 people and ask their questions. 

One year we had a student who was doing fine as we practiced in class and then got to the mic and just couldn’t ask the question. One of our panelists said to her, “There’s nothing more important than being able to be a solid public speaker and being comfortable standing up in front of people. I will commit to you to work with you one-on-one so that you have the comfort to be able to do that.”

Those are the kinds of networking opportunities we are offering our students. This is more than just launching a startup — this academy really is teaching students the value of a network and the importance of community. 

Can you tell us about some of the businesses that have been created? 

We launch between 15 and 16 businesses every cohort. We have a student who’s selling her culinary treats at the farmer’s market.

During the pandemic, a student launched what’s called Face Tutor, and it’s like Uber for tutors. It connects students in one time zone to tutors from other time zones. You pay for a session, and you’re connected remotely. 

Eighty-five startups have been launched in five years.

Do you think that this program is helping keep young, talented people in the state? 

One of my first meetings was with Richard White, who is the former dean at the LSU College of Business. I spoke with him about the pipeline to get high school students into or even aware of the College of Business and that opportunity. He and I discussed how the Young Entrepreneurs Academy really is the perfect pipeline into LSU — and that’s what it’s become. When the students graduate in April, they’re not only receiving a certificate of entrepreneurship, but they also are eligible for three credits from the College of Business if they choose to attend LSU. 

It is certainly not hurting keeping smart, motivated young people in the state, which is great. 

How can the community help YEA BR?

We’re always looking for volunteer graphic designers. We then pair each student CEO with a professional graphic designer, and over a period of three weeks, the graphic designer develops a brand based on the information.

We are also always looking for business mentors, financial mentors (CFOs, bankers or accountants) and technical mentors.

For more information about the Young Entrepreneurs Academy of Baton Rouge, visit


About Mary Weyand 14483 Articles
Mary founded Scoop Tour with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research. With ample knowledge about the Automobile industry, she also contributes her knowledge for the Automobile section of the website.

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