After months of researching, planning, and writing business plans, 13 high school students pitched six business ideas to a panel of local investors at the City of Clovis Council Chambers on March 26. They were all competing for investments in their companies, and no one went home empty-handed. Local business representatives donated a total of $3,300 to cover business start-up costs.
All l3 students that presented are enrolled in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!), a seven month program offered through the Clovis Chamber Commerce. Each week high school students meet for three hours at Clovis Community College Center where they learn necessary skills to become professional entrepreneurs.
“The skills they have learned will last them a lifetime,” said Fran Blackney, YEA! program manager. “The chamber takes this very seriously. We want these students to know that adults support them. We are their cheerleaders.”
YEA! teens pitched a variety of business ideas - everything from an Italian Bakery, a self-watering system for plants, trendy grips for tennis rackets, and an exercise company. In their pitch, students gave detailed business information including business goals, market analysis and plans, monthly projections, operating costs and financing strategies.
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“I was really nervous before I got up at the podium, but I knew my business so it was more calming than I thought it would be,” said Kelsey Ewing of K-Bear Cares, a company that recycles and sells stuffed animals.
River Alexander, Hannah McKay and Rohan Misha pitched Hydrosolve, a self-watering system for plants.
“Presenting was a little bit scary at first, but I felt confident from practicing with YEA!,” Alexander said.
Alexander, 14, a freshman at Clovis North, is the co-founder/product developer of Hydrosolve. Alexander said he came up with the idea for Hydrosolve about year ago, and he eventually built the prototype. It is designed to detect a plant’s need for water, and Alexander says it is more efficient and less complicated than competing products.
Alexander’s mother, Celeste, proudly watched her son from the audience.
“I was so proud of him,” she said. “They all worked so hard, and I was very emotional.”
Celeste said Alexander has been an inventor his whole life, and began by selling stories in grade school. She said it has been apparent from day one that Alexander is serious about becoming a businessman.
“He would dress up at three and four years old with a mustache and tie,” Celeste said, beaming with pride.
Celeste wasn’t the only proud mother in the room. Joanna Vitale was also proudly watching as her daughter, Maegan, a sophomore at Clovis North, pitched Vitalian Bakery.
After visiting New York’s Little Italy and tasting the cannoli, Maegan decided she wanted to open up her own Italian bakery. Having an Italian heritage herself only added to her dream.
“She’s only 16, so to watch her maneuver the business world is exciting,” Joanna said. “She’s very goal-oriented and has a gift. She doesn’t use a recipe, she just thinks of what she wants to make and creates it.”
Joanna said YEA! has been a positive experience for Maegan.
“This program has been great,” she said. “She’s taken it very seriously, and the opportunity they offer kids is incredible.”
The top winning team of the competition was Emily Lang and Charles Harris of CEAL Clothing, a company that provides dress code appropriate clothing to high school students. Lang and Harris received $1,200 and will advance to the Saunders Scholars National College Scholarship competition in May in Arizona. While there, they will compete for college scholarships and an all-expenses paid trip, courtesy of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to America’s Small Business Summit in Washington, D.C.
“It felt like a true blessing to have won this,” Harris said. “We worked really hard to get here, and I am truly excited to go to Arizona.”
The runners up at the event were:
• Chameleon Grips and Viva La Fitness - $900 each.
• Vitalia Bakery and K-Bear Cares - $350 each.
• Hydrosolve: $300.
On top of the $900, Chameleon Grips was also awarded a $500 shopping spree from Sam’s Club.
Business representatives on the investor panel included: Norma Ramirez, Sam’s Club Manager in Fresno; Roy Vasquez, Dean of Business, Fresno City College; Lydia Shaw, VP of Central Valley Community Bank, Deborah McHenry Christensen, CEO Pinnacle Auto Brokers; and Rod Silver, CEO of ARTCO Design.
There are 22 students currently enrolled in YEA! of Clovis. They are among 8,000 students in 38 states nationwide enrolled in the 30-week entrepreneurial education class. The Young Entrepreneurs Academy is a 501(C)3 that was founded in 2005 at the University of Rochester. In 2012, the U.S. Chamber recommended the Clovis Chamber to be the first in California to host the program.