Q&A with Danny Gray, business teacher of National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge winners Toheeb & Jesus

October 16, 2013  |  22 comments

Toheeb Okenla and Jesus Fernandez were recently named winners of NFTE’s annual National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge (NYEC) for their business T&J Soccer, a retail business that sells soccer socks to protect player’s shins during game. Fernandez, a 17-year-old student at Thornwood High School and Okenla, also 17 and now studying at University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, took home the $25,000 grand prize, prevailing over the top 34 businesses from around the country. Jesus and Toheeb were able to hone their business plan and prepare for the competition through the entrepreneurship education programs provided in the NFTE curriculum. We contacted Toheeb and Jesus’ NFTE teacher Danny Gray, and asked him to reflect on their win.

Danny Gray,
NFTE Chicago Teacher

What do you think about teaching NFTE?

This year I had the experience of a lifetime as a teacher. NFTE is one of the most exciting classes that a business teacher can teach, and this year with the opportunity to participate in the National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge elevated my excitement to another level.

What was it like to work with Toheeb and Jesus?

Working with Toheeb and Jesus was a learning experience that I deeply enjoyed. We were able to work through some challenging moments which helped them take their presentation to another level. Jesus and Toheeb are serious competitors, and after some challenging activities that took place during the first round of the national competition, we were able to regroup and tweak some things that we were not happy about. I have never worked with students that were more dedicated to being the best they could be.

What was it like to watch Toheeb and Jesus’ business plan develop?

When we presented in the class, Toheeb and Jesus were not my first choice. I had several students in my class with great business ideas and I was only willing to advance the students that were giving 100%. I remember pulling them both to the side to let them know that I didn’t think they were giving 100% and I suggested they commit more to the class. When I saw their first presentation after they appeared to only be giving 75%, I said, “Wow!”

What do you think of the national competition?

The national competition was one of the best experiences I have had so far as a teacher. I almost cried when my guys were announced the winners. I expected drama, but what I witnessed was like a Broadway play. It was like winning a Tony Award. My students said that they wanted to thank their teacher for all the support, and even though they did all the work, it felt good to know that with all the stardom, they did not forget me. 

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22 Comments

This is awesome! I am proud

This is awesome! I am proud of all of you!!!

wow good job guys represeting

wow good job guys represeting thornwood high really showing everyone what were made of it really inspires to to achieve greatness seeing how you two were able to win , and who knows i might even be next years winner

Good job guys Mr.Grey is

Good job guys Mr.Grey is really proud of you all and you made Thornwood known!!

Great job guys! Hopefully i

Great job guys! Hopefully i get there too!

When Toheeb and Jesus won I

When Toheeb and Jesus won I was so proud. i was proud to be their peer, proud to attend the same school and proud that they achieved something so great. This win gave me a realization that I could actually achieve this same goal. I could go far with my business idea because I have the same great teacher,Mr.Gray, NFTE and most important a business idea that means more to me than the fame or profit it could potentially bring.

You guys accomplished

You guys accomplished something amazing!! Great Job! Hope your business works out Great!!!

I'm so proud of both you even

I'm so proud of both you even though we havent known each othe for that long. Its good see after all the events thats happened with us and the school recently we can finally get some good out it and our peers. Congratulations you guys, you deserve it!

I want to say great job for

I want to say great job for both of them and mr gray. hopefully I will get there.

great job on the competition

great job on the competition

I'm glad to see Thornwood

I'm glad to see Thornwood take a big win nationally and hopefully when the time comes around again, we can spark another victory.

great job on the competiton

great job on the competiton nice to have thornwood students be recongized for something so huge

Even though Toheeb wasn't the

Even though Toheeb wasn't the greatest friend to me when he attended Thornwood, I'm proud of him as well as Jesus's acheivement.

I'm glad to see Thornwood

I'm glad to see Thornwood take a big victory nationally, hopefully when the time comes we can do it again

Even though Toheeb wasn't the

Even though Toheeb wasn't the greatest friend to me when he attended Thornwood, I'm proud of him as well as Jesus's acheivement.

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