MINNEAPOLIS — If Janyesha Jackson hadn’t co-founded the Express Yourself Clothing resale shop, she said, she might be working at Dairy Queen this summer. Business partner Kelsey Heider says she would be looking hard for a job.

Janyesha and Kelsey, along with Stella Richardson and Perquila Rogers, over the past 18 months conceived, planned and opened the resale shop two blocks from Central High School in St. Paul, Minn., where three of them are enrolled. They’ve all struggled to find employment in the past.

In the worst economy for teen jobs that almost anyone can remember, a new entrepreneurial spirit has emerged — some of it by necessity — that is being fueled by government and private agencies as well as by the desires of teens looking to make their own way in the world.

Teen unemployment topped 21 percent last summer, and with so many adults taking jobs normally reserved for youths, this year’s summer jobs picture may be only slightly better, state officials say.

Even Junior Achievement — the time-honored teen business icon — is getting into the act, again. For the first time in 16 years, the Minneapolis-area JA unit is offering the business startup program that made it famous.

In partnership with Best Buy’s Geek Squad, JA is helping students from Edison High School in Minneapolis start a business. They’re writing and planning to sell a cookbook with all the diverse recipes, flavors and tastes found at the polyglot high school.

JA’s effort, in part, is a response to a national survey the organization commissioned last year. It found that 51 percent of teens would like to start their own businesses, says Gina Blayney, president of Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest.

Other organizations are also filling the void, including Youth Express, the nonprofit agency that has guided and sponsored the clothing store initiative. It’s an example of social entrepreneurship, a way of doing business while doing good.

That trend has been under way for a number of years but only recently has reached out to teens, says Mary Karen Lynn-Klimenko, director of Minneapolis-based Sundance Family Foundation, which has been funding such ventures.

“Instead of finding jobs, they start their own,” Lynn-Klimenko said.

That’s what Mohamed Jama is planning for a coffee cart business that will provide jobs for 10 teenagers living in and near the Riverside Plaza towers in Minneapolis.

Mohamed, 16, a sophomore at the Ubah Medical Academy charter school in Hopkins, Minn., said he and a group of upstart entrepreneurs thought a coffee shop would be a good idea so their parents wouldn’t have to go far from their housing complex to get coffee and to talk.

The coffee cart, which will open this summer in the Brian Coyle Community Center, is the first step. A full-fledged coffee shop is next on the agenda.

“Our community does not have a lot of employment for youth,” Mohamed said.

Mohamed’s group is learning through a Pillsbury United Communities business program that is teaching them about prices, menus and job descriptions, says Jennifer Blevins, director of the center.

“We’re not taking any step without the youth leading the way,” she said.

Youth Express has done the same for the four girls, taking them through a yearlong process of business development.

Step inside their clothing store where the pastel purple, blue and yellow hues surround neat tables and racks of pants, casual tops and dressier stuff to enter the world of teenage business development.

The girls considered more than 100 business ideas before completing a feasibility study of the top four suggestions and settling on the resale shop. A coffee shop and a candy store were other considerations, but proved not as workable as taking in free and inexpensive clothing and reselling it.

“Startup costs are expensive,” said Perquila.

Along with hard-nosed business decisions, the girls also designed the shop for their 13- to 30-year-old female target market.

They’re now trying to figure out how to get more customers into the six-month-old shop. They’ve held a grand opening and tried coupons and sales.

Gazing around the room at the mannequins she dressed with clothes from the shop, Janyesha said, “This could be a good enterprise.”Junior Achievement’s effort, in part, is a response to a national survey the organization commissioned last year.


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