Posted: September 30, 2013
GenXYZ Top Five: Brandy Bertram, 36
Executive Director, YouthBizNora Caley
When Brandy Bertram was in grade school, all her report cards contained the same critique. “It always had ‘Challenges the instructor,’” says Bertram, currently the executive director of YouthBiz. “I was always asking, ‘Why am I doing this, what is this and where does it come from?’”
Bertram grew up in Laramie, Wyo. Her parents and brother all earned doctorates, so she might have been expected to follow their academic lead. Yet, she declined. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of Wyoming, and then went to work as a stockbroker.
“I earned my Series 7 and Series 63,” she says, referring to the securities licenses. “I did that because someone told me I couldn’t, and I liked the challenge.”
She went to work for the Denver branch of Charles Schwab & Co. Inc., where she won excellence awards and served on a local philanthropic board and listened to nonprofit pitches. “We would hear requests to save everything: puppies and whales and water,” she explained.
Then she watched a presentation by a representative from YouthBiz, an organization that helps lift young people out of poverty by teaching them about entrepreneurism. “She talked about using $5,000 to fundamentally shift a young person’s life in inner-city Denver, by trying on business ownership as a pathway out of poverty.”
So inspired was Bertram that she fought for the grant, and began volunteering with YouthBiz. She would show up in her stockbroker suit and teach kids ages 14 to 24 about business skills, access to markets and startup financing.
That was 1999.
Over the next few years, she continued to volunteer as she worked as director of operations and finance at the law firm Donelson Ciancio & Goodwin P.C., chief operating officer at the charter school Denver Venture School, training and enterprise specialist at the economic development business Making Cents International and deputy director at Micro Business Development Corp.
In January 2012 she became executive director of YouthBiz. “I took a 50 percent pay cut, and I never looked back,” she says.
Bertram thinks she was destined to do this type of work. “I love the combination of figuring out the money conversation and the human conversation,” she says. “That’s business, the collision of the two worlds.”
YouthBiz was launched in 1992 to teach job and life skills to youth in Denver’s underserved communities. The focus on entrepreneurism is designed to help young people think about starting and growing their own businesses, and design their own economic futures.
“Our job is to help them think about what’s possible,” Bertram says. “We see young people shifting from, ‘Maybe I can do hair,’ to ‘Maybe I can own a salon franchise, or ‘Maybe I could make this handbag,’ to, ‘What if someone else manufactured the bag and I had multiple retailers sell it?’ They are worth more than a minimum-wage job.”
Indeed, she has helped launch businesses over the years, but YouthBiz is different. “This is a big deal here,” she says.
Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in business and food topics.