This year I volunteered as a judge in NFTE’s largest competition of the year: the National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. Students came from across the country to pitch their business plans for the chance to win funding, and you could feel the excitement in the air. For me, this feeling was familiar – eight years ago I competed in the National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge, pitching my plan for a fashion business that I ran for seven years before accepting a full-time design position at Macy’s.
Being a judge was meaningful for me because I got to witness a moment in the lives of these students that I think will remind them of their own worth far beyond this semester or this year. I remember what it felt like to know that I could take my passion for fashion and make it in into a business. One of the student entrepreneurs this year especially affected me, because her business creates comfort boxes for people with mental health issues, and as part of her business pitch, she described her own struggle with depression and mental illness. I love how this young woman turned her personal struggle into a winning business idea.
Looking back, I realize that the most important thing NFTE taught me wasn’t only about creating a business. What changed my life the most was a shift in mindset. As a teenager, I loved fashion and had so many creative ideas, but I lacked the self-confidence, the direction, and the strategic thinking skills to turn my dream of becoming a fashion designer into reality. Through NFTE, I not only learned how to run a business, but also how to advocate for myself, how to think outside of the box, and how to lead a team.
Since NFTE, I launched my own business, was recruited to design for Macy’s, and quickly moved up the ladder. Today, I am proud to say that I am one of the youngest head designers at the company. I know that NFTE helped to instill the entrepreneurial mindset that enabled me to develop my own valuable skill set that has lead to my success both as an entrepreneur and within a large corporation. At Macy’s, I can balance thinking creatively and strategically, and I’ve introduced a number of new products, initiatives, and procedures that have caught the attention of Macy’s executives.
I remember seeing firsthand how incredible my classmates’ ideas were when I was in a NFTE program, I still found myself in awe this year at how articulate, how poised, how confident, and how innovative each of the student entrepreneurs were. It seems every new generation of NFTE students raises the bar even higher.
I know that the new generation of NFTE students will have a lifetime of success and new opportunities that may not have otherwise been presented to them. I am so excited to see the direction that their lives take, and I hope that more students can have access to NFTE in the future.
By Zoe Damacela, NFTE Alum