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New Opportunities: Apprentice Program Enstitute Looks To St. Louis

(Credit: Flickr/Sean MacEntee)

A New York-based apprentice program aimed at giving young adults experience within innovative companies is expanding to St. Louis.

Enstitutewas founded in New York City by Kane Sarhan and ShailaIttycheria in 2012. The goal was to help connect students who weren’t ready or interested in a traditional path to college get on-the-job experience with start-up companies and entrepreneurs. A second location was opened in Washington, D.C., in January.

Ittycheria is adamant that the placements Enstitute makes are not internships.

"It’s been very rewarding to see just how much this model works," Ittycheria said. "Frankly, just what happens when you put a high-potential young adult under a founder or C-level executive who really takes them under their wing and, by exposing them to a broad suite of functional skills, how quickly they accelerate."

Typically participants are anywhere from 18 to 24 years old and have varying degrees of education. Of the first 11 students who began the program 2012, Ittycheria said all have jobs or have started their own companies, with the exception of one, who opted to go back to college.

"For us, college is not by any means the enemy. We just don’t think that it was meant for everyone and possibly not at the age of 18," she said. "It’s a very costly endeavor. We argue a lot of people say ‘you go to college, you get a great job,’ but that’s not what’s happening right now. We’re just trying to create more options and allow people to explore more pathways and lead them, hopefully, to a more successful career and just lifetime trajectory."

Enstitute has changed its business model in the few short years it’s been operating. What began as a two-year apprenticeship now lasts a minimum of one year with the option of a second year. Enstitute apprentices are paid by the companies with which they’re placed. The organization itself in a non-profit and relies on donations.

Right now, the organization is trying to expand to St. Louis, Boston and Los Angeles.

The effort here was strongly encouraged by Build-A-Bear founder Maxine Clark. She met Enstitute’s co-founder, Sarhan, and immediately embraced the idea of apprenticeships.

Clark said she went through May Company’s executive training program, which was a way many people in her generation learned business.

"Without that mentorship and that oversight of a senior leader being responsible for me, I don’t know what would have happened," she said. "I probably would have done my duty then gone off to law school and become a lawyer."

Clark introduced Sarhan and Ittycheria to people in the startup scene in St. Louis. She said so far, the concept has been seized upon.

"I think it’s just what the doctor ordered for St. Louis," she said.

Both Sarhan and Ittycheria will be at an event in St. Louis on Wednesday announcing Enstitute’s plans to launch its first class of apprentices here in the fall. More than a dozen venture capitalists from New York City are also expected to attend  that same event.

"All these VCs are coming from the Enstitute’s established network to meet St. Louis companies because we believe in the ecosystem," Ittycheria said.

Ittycheria said so far, that ecosystem is supporting Enstitute, as well. Several local startups have committed to taking an apprentice, including FoodEssentials, TrackBill, and Pushup Social. Enstitute has verbal commitments for $100,000 in donations and needs another $100,000 to launch in September.

"We cannot be more excited about coming to St. Louis," Ittycheria said. 

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.