Starting a business can be tumultuous — only about half of American businesses make it past year five, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A class of Manhattan High School students got an opportunity to experience a small taste of the trials and tribulations through the 4th annual Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge.
Organized locally by Riley County 4-H and held in Cico Park’s Pottorf Hall Wednesday, the YEC is a statewide program developed in partnership with Wichita-based NetWork Kansas.
“What we’re looking to do is bring out high school age students living in our area that have an idea for a business or a product that they can, in turn, create a business plan [for], put together a trade show booth and also do a four-minute formal presentation,” says Riley County 4-H Agent John Jobe. “I always liken this event to Shark Tank for high school kids because they’re standing up in front of a panel of judges and saying this is my business, this is what our margins look like, this is where we might fit into the current market.”
Students are judged on their formal presentation before judges drawn from the business and entrepreneur community as well as on their trade show poster and a written business plan submitted prior to the event.
“I think the real magic of the event is that it allows those young people to have the opportunity to ask questions of those people who are really doing it,” says Jobe.
First place and $500 was awarded to “Flying R Farms” along with a berth to the KEC state championship — which if they participate in wins them an additional $250 — second place winners “Funkalicious Pies” took home $400 while third place recipients “Elite Coaching” received $200.
Many of the participating students engaged in their projects through a business and entrepreneurship class taught by Kathy Ricketts at MHS.
“I think it’s so valuable for the students,” says Ricketts. “It’s real-life experience, it’s hands-on, it shows them how much work it actually is starting and opening up a new business.”
Business and product concepts varied as much as the students’ interests.
“Everything from beef jerky to clothing lines,” says Jobe. “I think one gentleman has something on moon exploration — so it’s really all over the board.”
Hannah Davin itched an idea for a dance therapy studio, drawing from her love of dance.
“I don’t want to stop dancing — I’ve danced my whole life and love it — but I also want to help others,” Davin says. “I get told that I’m really easy to talk to […] and I like helping and being there for someone to talk to so why not come up with something to combine them both?”
Senior Hannah Guo’s proposal was for a business called Skytadi. Inspired by NASA’s renewed Mars initiatives, Guo envisions the organization performing astronomical research as well as offering a non-profit, financially accessible K-12 educational program. She says she’s taken a lot from the YEC experience.
“It made me realize it takes time and lots of thoughts to turn an idea to a business,” says Guo. “If an idea is good, it doesn’t mean your business is going to go successfully.”
That realization was held commonly among many of the participants. Michael Clark, who proposed a company called OuterSpace, says he gained more insight into the amount of resources needed to start up a business — even a digitally native one.
Clark’s company would create a platform to connect businesses and social media influencers. Businesses would post campaigns through OuterSpace which would automatically notify influencers with like interests who could then accept a promotion contract. Clark says there is not much competition, and the only company doing anything similar is a multi-channel network.
“They take 70 percent of your earnings, the most we’d take is 35 [percent].”
Local YEC events will run through the end of March. The KEC state championship is scheduled for April 28 at Kansas State University.