The Young Entrepreneurs' Organization (YEO) is perhaps the best known of several groups that emerged during the 1990s to offer educational opportunities and other kinds of support to young business owners. Membership in such groups has increased dramatically in recent years, as more and more young people have abandoned traditional corporate career paths in favor of the increased autonomy and financial rewards that are possible through entrepreneurship. "Times have changed, and today entrepreneurship has become a key career choice for young Americans," wrote Tariq K. Muhammad in Black Enterprise. "Highly publicized corporate downsizings have cast a pall over the traditional path to success, and fueled a general perception that well-paying jobs with room for advancement are scarce. The days when professionals could expect to stay with the same company for a lifetime are long gone. Human resources professionals estimate that today's worker will have an average of five to ten career changes in their lifetime. As a result, interest in entrepreneurship has grown."
YEO was founded in 1987 by a group of five successful young entrepreneurs, including the founders of I Can't Believe It's Not Yogurt, the California Closet Company, and Redgate Communications Corporation. By the late 1990s, the group included 2,500 business founders based in 30 countries around the world. YEO member companies represented more than $130 billion in revenues and employed an estimated 1.3 million people in the late 1990s. The YEO is managed by an international board of directors that oversees local community chapters.
The mission of YEO is to provide its members with mentoring, peer networking, and educational opportunities. Membership is open to individuals who are under the age of 40 and are the founders, cofounders, or majority shareholders of companies grossing over $1 million annually (special exceptions also exist for venture-backed firms). Annual membership fees are $1,300. Local chapters hold monthly meetings and sponsor regular educational events or presentations. In addition, the national organization regularly sponsors tours of other countries to study new business strategies, methods, and innovations. Many chapters also feature "self-help" forums where groups of 10 to 12 entrepreneurs from noncompeting industries get together to work on common problems faced by small business owners, such as hiring good employees or international expansion. Personal issues are also sometimes explored in these private, confidential settings, which are facilitated by trained moderators.
Another popular YEO program is its so-called Inventory of Skills (IOS), in which members can turn to fellow members to solve business problems or garner information on business issues they are facing. "YEO lets me benefit from the experience of my peers, who are also entrepreneurs and have already gone through situations I may be going through," one entrepreneur told Black Enterprise. "When I'm looking to enter new markets, I already have a contact in any part of the world because of my affiliation with YEO." The YEO can be contacted via its web site at www.yeo.org.