The future’s so bright…

Tuesday, I attended an investor panel here in Castle Rock, Colorado. Four entrepreneurs presented the business cases for their start-ups in the hopes of attracting seed funding. The candidates:

  • * A fashionista with a flair for design, who wanted to develop a mobile application targeted at the teen market.
  • * A gifted videographer intent on starting his own advertising agency.
  • * A philanthropic entrepreneur who hoped to help children in need obtain educational supplies.
  • * A start-up with a unique and witty design for a whimsical personal hygiene product.

Nic Brownrigg, president and founder of The Manasi Project, gives his presentation to a local investor panel in Castle Rock, Colorado ion April, 2014.

Nic Brownrigg, high school sophomore, president and founder of The Manasi Project, gives his presentation to a local investor panel in Castle Rock, Colorado in April, 2014.

The business cases were thoughtfully presented. The potential investors pulled no punches as they questioned the applicants. The entrepreneurs were unruffled as they responded. The difference between this and any other funding event? The entrepreneurs ranged in age between 14 and 16 years old. All were either freshmen or sophomores in high school. The top two participants walked away with $1,650 and $1,600 in funding, respectively.

Welcome to the Young Entrepreneurs’ Academy.

For the past thirty weeks, young, enterprising students have been meeting on Monday afternoons at Castle View High School. They went on field trips to various businesses, including Chick-fil-A and SkyVenture Colorado. They were mentored by local entrepreneurs. They came up with workable, scaleable concepts for their start-ups. They wrote robust business plans. They figured out how they would fund their ventures. They recruited boards of advisers. They created websites, with the help of local designers and developers, like Michael at gopixel, who donated their time, talent and patience to these young, ambitious teens.

Carrie Buchan at the Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce stewarded the program. She guided them with a light but firm hand, intervening only if they fell too far behind on their commitments or were absent too often. She communicated on an ongoing basis with the parents, making sure they were in the loop as the workshops progressed.

The investor panel was impressive. All three were CEOs, with extensive experience managing large enterprises and growing startups. Woody Pastorius is the president & CEO of mywedding.com. Todd Folkenberg is the CEO of Castle Rock Adventist Hospital, the new hospital here in Castle Rock. Mike Tafoya is CEO of Estrada Strategies. The emcee was Mike Boyle, of the very popular radio program, Mike Boyle’s Restaurant Show.

Substantial financial support at stake

Prior to the presentations, the panel had offered to distribute up to $3,900 of their own funds among whichever startups they felt warranted the funding. This funding would not be a loan. Nor would it be an equity play. There were no strings attached. It was simply an expression of confidence in the businesses to which they awarded it.

Presentation night

Tuesday night, each student entrepreneur brought his or her “A” game. They stood in front of the big screen, on stage in the Castle View High School theater. They did their presentations and they took tough questions from the investor panel.  The presentations were polished. The questions were wide-ranging. The panel grilled the advertising entrepreneur about the assumptions underlying his labor cost projections. They asked the aspiring philanthropist why he chose to create a custom shopping cart for his online donation platform instead of using existing commercial software. They asked the hopeful entrepreneur with the unique personal hygiene item about her somewhat high price point, and whether she had done a patent search.  The students were well-prepared and poised in their responses.

The results

The investor panel then adjourned to discuss the presentations and the next steps. When they returned, they diplomatically but directly pointed out the strengths and weaknesses of each aspiring business owner’s plan.  They encouraged the positives and explained the negatives. There were no patronizing, falsely optimistic notes. And then…

    • * They announced the winner of the competition: the young lady with the funky-yet-useful personal hygiene product. They offered to help her do that patent search, figure out her manufacturing hurdles, engage in coaching from the business coach, and they expressed interest in investing in the final product. She will go on to a regional competition in Texas at the end of April, and then, if she wins there, to the national competition in Washington, D.C.
    • * They provided funding for three of the four, and explained the issues they had with the business case of the fourth.
    • * They offered the videographer not one, but two, jobs creating videos for their businesses.
    • * The fashionista was offered an internship and an introduction to business contacts in fashion-forward Cherry Creek.
    • * And they offered the philanthropist – my son – three hours of business coaching, an introduction to the foundation management at the nonprofit for Castle Rock Adventist Hospital, and a month-long fundraiser at the hospital’s cafeteria, Manna. The funding they provided him was $500 more than the $1,100 he had originally (and audaciously, in his mind) requested.

With appreciation for wise, meaningful, generous guidance and support

These adult mentors offered so much to each student, wisely targeted to what  each most needed and earned.

    • * The substantial financial support let these students know these successful businessmen believed in their ideas.
    • * They provided believable encouragement by realistically pointing out the strengths of the participants.
    • * They gave each food for thought by highlighting issues each might encounter.

The open-handed generosity they exhibited in offering their own guidance and access to their personal networks was astounding to me. My son, who was somewhat, uncharacteristically pessimistic prior to the presentations, floated home, delighted by the night’s outcome. He awoke the next day thinking of his not-for-profit, and has been working on it every day since. His confidence has soared.

What a great program. What a wonderful group of mentors and advisers. And, what a terrific, inventive, talented group of kids. The future is looking pretty bright for local entrepreneurs here in Castle Rock, based on what I saw Tuesday night. Thank you, Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce. Thank you, Young Entrepreneur Academy.

 

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