Teen business owners win investment to cap Young Entrepreneurs Academy

Sharks circling boat, underwater view

Briana Elias ptches her idea and business plan for a seat that fits onto a music case during the Young Entrepreneurs Academy’s investor panel event Tuesday at Colorado Mesa Univeresity. A violinist herself, Elias is a senior in the International Baccalaureate program at Palisade High School.

The minnows showed their teeth in the shark tank Wednesday night, putting the bite on a panel of angel investors who gave out $5,000 to reward the Grand Valley’s youngest entrepreneurs for making their pitch.

Every teenage business owner who made it through the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce Young Entrepreneurs Academy walked away from Colorado Mesa University with some portion of the funds they requested.

Top money-winner was Abagale Stone, 13, of East Middle School, who received $1,100 of the $1,678 she requested.

“We’re very proud of her,” Stone’s mother and father, Milissa and Garrick said. “We’re on cloud nine.”

In all, a local team of judges invested $5,000 in student businesses.

Ranging in age from 11 to 18, Mesa County students spent the last several months brainstorming business ideas, writing a business plan, interacting with business professionals and, ultimately, pitching their plan to potential investors in the “shark tank,” a pressure cooker similar to the one broadcast on the popular ABC television program of the same name.

All the hard work and hours of effort paid off Wednesday when Grand Valley investors awarded cash to help the fresh new businesses launch.

Stone’s business is called Spot Bakery, a mini-cupcake wholesaler with special packaging designed by Stone herself.

“There’s nothing else like it on the market,” she said.

Jon Labrum of Grand Junction’s Jimmy John’s restaurants worked as Stone’s mentor during the competition.

As much as the packaging, the contents caught the judges’ eye. Coffee-pecan, white chocolate-lemon-raspberry, and carrot cake cupcakes sounded like winners. All flavors were tested at a local restaurant and won positive feedback, she said.

Money invested in Spot Bakery will be used for ingredients, kitchen rent, marketing and insurance, Stone said.

“I feel like I had a very well-rounded product,” she said. “I feel like I had a very good presentation. I think my packaging will sell very well. It’s convenient.”

Stone said an informal survey of consumers indicated $6.50 was a realistic price point.

“I really didn’t think I was going to win,” she said.

Next stop for Stone is Dallas, where on May 8 she will compete in the YEA semifinals.  If she is selected as one of two winners from Dallas, she will travel to Washington, D.C., to compete for a $50,000 scholarship.

But Stone’s was just one of the businesses family, friends, and a panel of judges looked over at Houston Hall, Colorado Mesa University, on Wednesday.

Each individual or team of business owners stood before a packed room and explained their ideas, projected costs, likely competition, marketing and business plans.

John David and Kendal Clark, both of Fruita Monument High School, explained their idea for Campus Chords, a website and booking agency that promotes musical acts.

Gabby Martinez, also from Fruita Monument High, promoted My Fit Choices, a fitness website for teens.

Briana Elias of Palisade High School, who plays clarinet, showed off Seat Pocket, her design for a portable cushioned seat with pockets in which to store sheet music.

Jason Cronk of Grand Junction High School focused on his photography business, which, in truth, is already up and running, but sought investment to expand his marketing. With $3,000 already invested in his own photography equipment, Cronk’s business appears to have legs.

A team known as “the three Sams” presented in syncopated style their explanation for Get Weird, a limited edition clothing business that also donates a portion of its profits to the African Rainforest Conservation Fund.

Samuel McBurney and Samuel Jackson, both of Fruita Monument High, and Samuel Johnson, of Caprock Academy, expect their “fashion brands for misfits” to catch on with young consumers.

Developed at the University of Rochester in 2004 using a grant from the Kauffman Foundation, the Young Entrepreneurs Academy was introduced by the chamber to Grand Junction and Mesa County this year, said chamber spokeswoman Betsy Bair.

In the past six years, Young Entrepreneurs Academies around the country graduated roughly 600 students who started nearly 450 businesses and social movements.


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