As the nation’s economy continues its recent downturn, New Haven economic leaders hope a unique partnership with Yale students will enhance the city’s prosperity.

City and University officials joined members of the Yale Entrepreneurial Society at City Hall Wednesday to announce the “YES to New Haven” campaign, which is aimed at advancing the city’s entrepreneurial potential by supporting business-minded individuals and corporations in New Haven. The gathering was also the final opportunity for groups to submit plans for YES’s annual business-plan competition.

The two-month campaign will consist of seminars, mentoring and network events, including discussion sessions with representatives from Cambridge Incubator April 4 and Dell Computer Corporation chairman Michael Dell April 6. All Yale students and New Haven residents interested in starting a business are invited to attend the events.

“The potential of all this entrepreneurial activity is huge for New Haven,” YES President David Pozen ’02 said. “By working with all these groups, we help create a coordinated entrepreneurial community.”

The campaign and competition are the first steps in a collaboration between the Yale community, city government and New Haven business leaders. In addition to providing experience for aspiring entrepreneurs, civic leaders expect the project will help boost New Haven’s economy and job market.

“YES is an expression of the community’s interests being enhanced by associating with one another,” Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said. “Through its services, programs and incentives, New Haven has proven itself to be a desirable location for new business.”

Bruce Alexander, Yale’s vice president for New Haven and state affairs, said the University has an obligation to support the city through the current campaign.

“One of the most important roles the University can play in this community is one of economic development,” Alexander said. “This is the basis of strong communities and it provides jobs for people and taxes for services.”

The annual Y50K business-plan competition, which Pozen described as the “cornerstone” event of the “YES to New Haven” campaign, allows Yale-led teams to develop a business plan and present it to a panel of judges from the city’s business community. This YES-sponsored event awards over $100,000 in start-up funding and provides educational and networking opportunities to deserving entrants.

“The Y50K competition is really a yearlong educational process that teaches people how to turn their ideas into real ventures,” Y50K competition chairman Julian Revie ’01 said. “Every team is a winner in this competition.”

Revie added that each team will receive feedback for its ideas and will have access to a network of those involved in starting new businesses.

John Leibovitz LAW ’03, chief executive of YellowPen and winner of last year’s Y50K competition, said the contest provided him with the impetus to develop a software program he had long envisioned.

“There were two impediments to my plan: writing a plan and organizing a team to make the plan a reality,” said Leibovitz, who expects his soon to be released software to target knowledge-intensive corporations. “YES was the mechanism to get past both hurdles.”

Pozen said YES is also helping to secure a large grant for Yale to support social entrepreneurship, which consists of entrepreneurship aimed at aiding others. The grant would help extend YES’s nonprofit work in New Haven and fund more new nonprofit organizations each year.