Staring a Youth Education Program

Interview with Derschaun Sharpley, founder of Helping Individuals Succeed

Derschaun Sharpley founded Helping Individuals Succeed Agency (H.I.S.) in Detroit in 2004. Today she is helping the city's youth develop the leadership skills they need to be successful. If you are looking to become an entrepreneur and help kids succeed, Ms. Sharpley is someone you should know!

Many people talk about what the kids of today need, but few are willing to lend a hand. Derschaun Sharpley is raising a family, running a business, and helping kids develop life skills.

Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?

At Helping Individuals Succeed Agency (H.I.S.), we inspire and empower youth ages 8-18 through character development, leadership skills, and etiquette training.

Wow, that sounds inspirational. What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?

I was working for Detroit Public Schools as a Compact Coordinator. My job was to find or design programs to help students increase their GPA, improve attendance and test scores, while decreasing their code of conduct violations. We also offered training in areas to assist them in obtaining full-tuition and fees scholarship. No, this is not my first business. I have been an entrepreneur since around 8 years old beginning with a newspaper route.

I had a newspaper route when I was a kid too. I bet there are a lot of women entrepreneurs out there who started this way. Did your experience at Detroit Public Schools lead you to start this business?

Yes, in running the Detroit Compact program, I needed to provide certain trainings to my students and I couldn't find one organization that offered everything I needed. I designed the curriculum for what is now One Pearl and One Star and other schools started calling to have these programs hosted at their schools as well.

I'm always reading about the importance of a business plan. Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?

I did write a business plan and it has been very instrumental in guiding this organization toward the success that we expect. I have been able to tweak it and expand upon it as we have grown.

Who did you hire to help you? Bookkeeper, Accountants, Lawyers ...? Would you suggest others do the same?

I hire and recruit all individuals that will help to make my life easier. As entrepreneurs we tend to wear many hats, but to be effective and to grow your business, you have to begin to delegate. I would suggest the same to others and if you can't afford it initially, get an intern from your local college/university or competent students from a high school because they need the experience and the OCLEX hours to graduate high school in most states.

Did you operate your business from your home? What were the challenges and benefits to this strategy?

The challenges were having balance with work and family. I have a three year old and after I had him, I had to prioritize my time more as a wife, mom, then business owner. With so much to do it was a bit challenging! Having access to your office 24 hours was great. The benefits were low over-head, family more accessible, and the flexibility of working an out of the norm schedule. But, that could also be a con in the end with no sleep from working until 3am or 4am daily and having to get a child ready for school at 7am after three hours of sleep.

What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?

Joining Mastermind groups for the accountability and support. Also, constant research & evaluation and giving the clients what they want. Lastly, perseverance is key. You can't abort your vision because the road seems rough, if it's your calling in life, stick it out and you will reap the benefits.

What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?

You must have the passion needed to work with youth in this era because they're not like the youth in history's past. They are a peculiar group and require the same things like education, love, and direction but the way you disperse them need to be unique. You can't decide to do youth development to make money because you won't be in it long. Kids are very honest and will eat you alive if they sense your motives are wrong and you won't be successful if you don't love it.

Thanks, for sharing your experiences with us, Derschaun. The kids of Detroit are lucky to have you!

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