Photo by Jeannie Frey Rhodes

Women with a Cause 2019: Deborah Sternberg

Cause: Young Entrepreneurs Academy of Baton Rouge 

Deborah Sternberg has enjoyed many careers, from a CBS news producer in New York City to Senator Mary Landrieu’s deputy chief of staff to positions in public relations and insurance.

But it’s the post Sternberg currently fills as steering committee chair for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy of Baton Rouge (YEABR) that has brought her the most fulfillment. “I spend my days reaching out,” says Sternberg, 47. “I love it. It’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.”

Sternberg launched the local chapter of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, a national nonprofit organization, a year and a half ago after realizing there was no pipeline for beginning entrepreneurs to learn from real-life CEOs what it takes to launch their own startups. “I didn’t understand why it didn’t exist,” Sternberg says.

Sternberg consulted Charlie D’Agostino, the former executive director of the Louisiana Business and Technology Center and LSU Innovation Park, to help aspiring entrepreneurs receive hands-on training and business education. D’Agostino introduced Sternberg to the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, and Sternberg quickly brought a local chapter to Baton Rouge.

Students in grades 8 through 12 from Baton Rouge’s nine-parish area are eligible to apply. Once accepted, YEABR students meet Wednesday evenings from September to March at LSU, Sternberg says. Need-based scholarships are available, according to the organization’s website.

Sixty-four students applied for 30 spots in the 2019 class, Sternberg says. Classes are taught by LSU business professors, with guest speakers brought in. Students are paired with business mentors to help them create real business plans and are taken on field trips to speak with entrepreneurs like CEO Brandon Landry of Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar.

By the end of the semester, students file their businesses with the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office, Sternberg says. The class culminates with students pitching their businesses before a Shark Tank-like investor panel where each student is awarded between $500 and $2,500 in seed funding, she says. Investors then select one team to fly to New York to compete in a global startup pitch competition for additional scholarship money, she says.

As steering committee chair,  Sternberg spends her time determining which business leaders and companies might be interested in YEABR and how to get them engaged on a financial basis, she says.

YEABR has provided many memorable moments. Sternberg says she loves watching teenagers and their families, many of whom have never been on a college campus before, attend the academy’s orientation at LSU. “The feedback from those parents on the difference this is making for their family unit is just extraordinary,” Sternberg says.


What do you love about the volunteer efforts that you do?
Watching students go through the entire process of coming up with their business ideas, writing business plans, filing their businesses with the state of Louisiana, pitching for seed funding, and graduating after seven intense months is very rewarding.

How is your cause making a difference?
In partnership with LED, the E.J. Ourso College of Business and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, YEABR is creating a much-needed pathway for business-minded high school students in the greater Baton Rouge area. This work is not a simulation.

Is there a big or annual event for your cause?
The Investor Panel is the pinnacle of YEABR’s program. The student CEOs prepare their pitch for weeks before presenting before a panel of judges and the public.

What is something we don’t know about your cause?
Graduates of YEABR are eligible for three credits from the LSU E.J. Ourso College of Business if they enroll at LSU for college.