Written by Julie Kantor, Executive Director NFTE DC Region
In the beginning it started out with over 900 youth in DC, Maryland and Virginia schools, as well as several charter schools. They then went through 60+ hours of training on how to start and operate their own small businesses. Most of the students received seed capital to bring the book-theory to life and purchase their own inventory. And students from all over the region have showcased their new businesses in their schools and with most of them turning a profit. In the end these students compete to take their businesses to the next level.
The students start off with what we call the capstone exercise, which is when every student writes and defends a business plan and with high level business coaches. Their coaches, usually a CXO, are volunteers from companies likes Booz Allen, Columbia Capital, Clarabridge, SPP Mezzanine, and Occasions Caterers, and they are assisted by great Certified Entrepreneurship Teacher at each of their schools. The top 25 plans from the region were selected and coaching nights were held.
The 25 judges at the semifinals were wowed by what they saw and had the challenge of picking just one student from each room to advance to the regionals. The stakes were high as the top youth winner would also be recognized by Ernst & Young as Youth Entrepreneur of the Year, win $1,500 for their company, be courted by the media, and advance to the nationals in New York City to compete for $10,000.
It was a tough decision since they all had great plans, clear understanding of financials, competitive advantage, marketing mix, yearly income statements, and short/long term goals. In the end though, it was Liam McGhee of Juju Bars from Annandale High who won first place. And afterwards a few guests came up to me to ask if they could invest in him, which I could help but smile about. Brandi Gladden of Marcel’s Hat Designs from Suitland High School took second place; and several of the judges bought her hats afterwards. And in third place was David Ross of Diamond Cuts from Croom Vocational High School.
Part of being in business is tripping and then standing back up—the snow storm that delayed the competition didn’t deter the NFTE team or our students, teachers and parents. It was a powerful moment when our students were there at the end—all of the top five recognized with handshakes, hugs and financial support— as they all stood proudly. Those five students weren’t the only ones standing tall that day though. All the students from all 37 classrooms that got up and presented their business plans, unafraid to share their dreams and their passions, can be proud that they have now found their pathway to success.