Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge

Our Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge series is an eight-month-long series of business plan and pitch competitions that take place at the local, regional and national levels, culminating in a high-stakes national championship in New York City. Every year, thousands of students compete for the chance to win the championship title.

The Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge starts with pitch competitions at the local classroom or camp level, with winners having the potential to advance on to the regional and then national competitions. National qualifiers vie for bigger prize awards as they go up against the best young entrepreneurs from across the country in the final rounds. Finalists at all levels have a chance to win seed capital they can use to grow an existing business, launch a new business, or pursue educational goals.

Each competition round is judged by a panel of experts that includes business leaders and successful entrepreneurs who volunteer their time to support NFTE entrepreneurs.

NFTE has been running the annual Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge for fifteen years and in that time has awarded more than $2 million dollars in prizes. Read about some of the alums whose journeys on the #RoadtoNationals have inspired us.

Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge Hall of Fame

National Winner

Aaron Trinidad of Holy Trinity High School in Chicago, IL, took first place and won the 2019 national competition. After waiting until the last minute to complete his own community service hours for school, Aaron realized that nonprofit organizations sometimes struggle to get volunteers and students procrastinate before completing required service hours. Aaron’s solution is Lender, an app styled after Tinder that pairs nonprofits with volunteers based on their interests. Lender helps prevent students from waiting until the last minute to complete their service hours while bringing more volunteers to nonprofits.

National Runners Up

Gabriel Sheikh of Holy Trinity High School in Chicago, IL, was a national runner up in 2019. Gabriel conceived of his plan for Presistant, the ultimate presentation assistant, after realizing how much of a struggle he himself faced when presenting his business plan in his NFTE class. Using sophisticated AI features in his software and leveraging the existing technology of mobile phones, Gabriel’s app will allow presenters to measure and improve various aspects of their presentation.

Ela Gokcigdem of Wakefield High School in Arlington, VA, was a national runner up in 2019. An avid tennis player, Ela was frustrated that her earbuds were constantly falling out of her ears while playing and she was easily distracted by small noises. The noise-cancelling earbuds she owned weren’t cutting it. Why not create her own earbuds, with her own white noise technology? Ela’s business, ePearl Technologies, was born. She developed a new design for noise-cancelling wireless earbuds that don’t fall out. She created them with athletes in mind.

2019 NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge Finalists

Left-to-right: Aaron Trinidad, Ela Gokcigdem, Gabriel Sheikh

National Winner

Kelsey Johnson of Los Angeles, CA, took first place and won the 2018 national competition. Her startup business, Kinky Kaps, manufactures and markets a special shower cap Kelsey designed for people with long, heavy hair. Kelsey’s NFTE teacher was Connie Moore-Kelly of Hamilton High School.

National Runners Up

Joseph Franco of Hayward, CA, was a national runner up in 2018. His product, F Connect – short for Foster Connect – is an app that connects foster youth to a trusted network of advisors as well as resources and tools to help with college applications. Joseph’s NFTE teacher was Kathrina Miranda of Mt. Eden High School.

James Murray of Davie, FL, was a national runner up in 2018. His product, Guardian Helper, is a smart wristband that helps parents prevent young children from wandering away. James’ NFTE teacher was Kristen Austin of Nova High School.

Left-to-right: Joseph Franco, Kelsey Johnson, James Murray

National Winner

Jasmine Adams of in Charleston, SC, took first place and won the 2017 national competition. Her startup business, Smudgies, LLC, manufactures and retails money-saving fabric cloths that remove makeup with no water, no soap and no mess. Her NFTE teacher was Jonathon Davis of Bishop England High School.

National Runners Up

Nate Wheadon of St. Peters, MO, was a 2017 national runner up. His product Fudged UP! is an organic specialty fudge spread that comes in a variety of unique flavors. Nate’s NFTE teacher was Jake Lapinski of McCluer North High School.

Clifton Jackson of Iving, TX, was a 2017 national runner up. His startup business, CWC Pliers, patented a time-saving, multi-function combo tool used by professional electricians that Clifton designed while working as an apprentice electrician. His NFTE teacher was Rafael Paredes of Barbara Cardwell Career Prepatory Center.

Left-to-right: Nate Wheadon, Jasmine Adams, Clifton Jackson

2016 National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge

Winners: Anna Doherty & Hope Sacco of Baltimore, MD (Roland Park Elementary/Middle School)
Runner Up: Matthew Sarreshtehdari of Downey, CA (Downey High School)
Runner Up: Luke Beatrice of Framingham, MA (Joseph P. Keefe School)

2015 National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge

Winner: Crystal Sanchez of Lawndale, CA (Environmental Charter High School)
Runners Up: Urban Anam & Jannatul Rowshan of Queens, NY (High School of Eocnomics and Finance)
Runner Up: Kenneth Heurtas of Downey, CA (Downey High School)

2014 National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge

Winner: Lily DeBell of Baltimore, MD (Roland Park Elementary/Middle School)
Runner Up: Ambar Romero of Bridgeport, CT (Kolbe Cathedral High School)
Runner Up: Jesse Horine of Fort Mill, SC (Fort Mill High School)

2013 National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge

1st Place: Toheeb Okenla & Jesus Fernandez of South Holland, IL (Thornwood High School)
2nd Place: Dagim Girma of Alexandria, VA (T.C. Williams High School)
3rd Place: Juny Nguyen of San Jose, CA (San Leandro High School)

2012 National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge

Winner: Vincent Quigg of Downey High School in Downey, CA
Runners Up: Joziah Council & Jesse Council of Midland, PA (Franklin Center of Beaver County)
Runner Up: Edwin Romo of Painesville, OH (Thomas J. Harvey High School)
Elevator Pitch Competition Winner: Cale Morrow of in Dodge City, KS (Dodge City High School)

2011 National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge

1st Place: Haley Hoverter of Los Angeles, CA (Downtown Business Magnet School)
2nd Place: Shomari Patterson of Port Hueneme, CA (Boys & Girls club of Greater Oxnard)
3rd Place: Anthony DeFilippo & John Novas of Providence, RI (The MET High School)
Elevator Pitch Competition Winner: Jonathon Ovadia of Miami, FL (Miami Beach High School)

2010 National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge

1st Place: Nia Froome of North Valley Stream, NY (Prep for Prep)
2nd Place: Belma Ahmetovic of Wethersfield, CT & Zermina Velic of Hartford, CT (Sports and Medical Sciences Academy)
3rd Place: Crystal Vo of San Jose, CA (San Leandro High School)
Elevator Pitch Competition Winner: Steven Gordon of Brooklyn, NY (NFTE New York Metro BizCamp)

2009 National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge

1st Place: Khalif Rollins of Carson, CA
2nd Place: Zoe Damacela of Chicago, IL
3rd Place: Scott Paiva of New Bedford, MA

2008 National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge

1st Place: Jessica Cervantes of Miami, FL
2nd Place: Rodney Walker of Atlanta, GA
3rd Place: Amanda Loyola of New York, NY

2007 National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge

1st Place: Khalif Rollins of Carson, CA
2nd Place: Zoe Damacela of Chicago, IL
3rd Place: Scott Paiva of New Bedford, MA

2006 National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge

1st Place: Abby Lewis
2nd Place: Thomas Dant, Jr.
3rd Place: Lawrence K. Yamoah