Schoolyard CEO
An entrepreneur teaches inner-city kids the job skills they don't get anywhere else.
By Wilfried Eckl-Dorna

(FORTUNE Small Business) – Gerald Chertavian's life story is the very definition of "fast track": Former Wall Street hotshot graduates with honors from Harvard Business School, founds a successful Internet consultancy, and sells it at the height of the dot-com boom, walking away with $27 million. Since then Chertavian, now 39, has turned his entrepreneurial energy toward offering education and job training for inner-city kids in Boston and Providence. "We provide opportunity, nothing else," Chertavian says.

After selling Conduit Communications, the software firm he co-founded with two others, Chertavian used $650,000 of his profits to launch Year Up, which since 2000 has grown to a $5.5 million annual budget and 23 staffers. Year Up targets low-income youths ages 18 to 24 who already have a high school diploma or GED, and helps them get the job skills they need for entry-level positions at companies such as Comcast, Gillette, and Putnam Investments. Half of the training is what Chertavian calls ABC: attitude, behavior, and communications. Young adults from poor neighborhoods often lack the ability to express themselves clearly, he says. In workshops, Year Up students learn how to communicate via e-mail, how to take notes in a meeting, and how to make small talk. Chertavian teaches some of the classes.

The rest of the training is technical--mostly computer skills. Classes run five days a week, with a debit-point system for misbehaving or turning work in late. "It sets clear, fair, and consistent standards, and it shifts responsibility for behavior onto the student," says Chertavian. Students in the program receive college credits and a stipend of as much as $180 a week. This year it will graduate 200 students. About 85% will get job offers.

Before Year Up, "all I had was a high school diploma," says Sheryl Torres, 23. "I was at home raising my kids, and I would have done that forever." The single mother of two tried working as a hotel phone operator, but she couldn't accommodate the odd hours. She completed Year Up last July and turned an internship into a full-time position at the help desk of ChildrenFirst, a Boston company that provides backup child care to corporations. "It changed my life," she says.

One habit Chertavian carried over from his business career is that of expansion: He plans to open Year Up sites in New York City and Washington, D.C., in 2006.