Mar 04 2011

Encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit

Hon. James Bailey, founder of Yes!Carolina

By Kristin Hackler

It was a copy of a speech given at his alma mater, Hillsdale College, in November of 1998 that started it all. James Bailey, most well known for the three terms he served as an SC State House Representative, is the founder of the non-profit company Yes!Carolina, a local program which encourages entrepreneurship in today’s youth; especially those in low-income households. Started in 2004, the program has since provided entrepreneurial training to more than 500 teachers in South Carolina using an innovative entrepreneurship curriculum.

The speech which started Bailey down the path to launching this nationally recognized program, however, was something which spoke directly to him. It was titled “Solving the Problem of Poverty”.

Given by Steve Mariotti, a finance executive with Ford Motor Credit, the speech outlined Mariotti’s experiences as he went through a form of therapy which forced him to face aggressive people head on. To do this, Mariotti began working as a teacher in the Bronx in one of the worst high schools in America. Try as he might, though, he could not reach his students. Finally, in a fit of frustration, Mariotti asked his class if he had ever said anything that was helpful to them. One student raised his hand and said, “Remember when you told us about your import/export business?” and began listing number for number the brief outline Mariotti had given about how his business worked. The realization struck him immediately: teaching entrepreneurship to low-income students is the way to change the face of poverty. They are perfect for the business world in that they are used to stress and a do-it-yourself lifestyle. In short, they have business smarts, and Mariotti immediately began channeling those natural born talents by forming the program, Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE).

After reading Mariotti’s speech, Bailey immediately took it upon himself to learn more and contacted NFTE to take a class. Even though 75% of the students were teachers and he was the owner of a commercial real estate firm, Bailey talked NFTE into allowing him to attend and in two hours, Bailey realized that their program was more life relevant than anything he learned in school.

Flush with excitement over what he’d learned, Bailey returned to Charleston and ran for Mayor of Charleston in 2003, convinced that it was the only way to get a similar program going in South Carolina.

“If I had won, I never could have done this,” said Bailey. As it turned out, Bailey was able to speak with several state representatives and the program, named Youth Entrepreneurship South Carolina or Yes!Carolina for short, was launched a year later in 2004.

“We have trained more teachers [in the NFTE entrepreneurial program] than any other state in the United States, and Yes!Carolina was voted the best program in the United States a couple years ago,” said Bailey.

Now that so many teachers have been trained in the program, Bailey is focusing on running the dozen or so Yes!Carolina summer entrepreneurship camps across the state, and is in the process of starting a similar program for unemployed adults in Marion, South Carolina.

“This is the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done,” Bailey smiled. “We need to create an entrepreneurial climate in South Carolina, and we need to plant the seeds of entrepreneurship as early as possible.”

And to celebrate the success of the 1,000 or so students who graduate from an entrepreneurship class each year, Bailey has also published a book of the top 20 success stories of 2009, and hopes to print more editions in the future. The first edition, called The Spirit of Outreach, features students ranging in age from 13 to 20 who are already running their own businesses. From bakers to writers, ebay consigners to biofuel dealers, the Spirit of Outreach gives these successful students the chance to share their story with others and tell about the obstacles they had to overcome to reach their goals.

“It’s interesting, you have kids from the toughest background that think they’re so cool and won’t even talk to you about academics, but you give them a copy of this book and the second your back is turned, they’re reading it,” said Bailey.

“It’s okay to learn from a job, but you should have a side business that you could one day develop into your own business,” Bailey asserted. “The only way you get wealthy is to own your own business. You won’t get wealthy working for someone else.”

For more information about Yes!Carolina, visit or call 556-1909.

1 comment

    • Victor Salama on March 11, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Congratulations to Jimmy for all that he’s accomplished to make entrepreneurship education popular in South Carolina. He has a lot of fans at NFTE and the teachers and students that we’ve met along the way from South Carolina are great examples of a ‘can do’ entrepreneurial spirit.

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