For young entrepreneurs, solving problems their businesses

The latest participants in the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce Young Entrepreneurs Academy include (back row from left) Autumn Green, Wendy Espinoza, Raeleigh Abbott and Jaxon Monroe as well as (front row from left) Maykala Martinez, Zachary Smith and Autumn Henderson. Kearstyn Williams is not pictured. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)
The latest participants in the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce Young Entrepreneurs Academy include (back row from left) Autumn Green, Wendy Espinoza, Raeleigh Abbott and Jaxon Monroe as well as (front row from left) Maykala Martinez, Zachary Smith and Autumn Henderson. Kearstyn Williams is not pictured. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

When Autumn Henderson accidentally cut herself in a restaurant and couldn’t find a bandage, she came up with an idea for a new product: a small kit that includes not only bandages, but also hair ties, lip balm and other things women might need in a pinch.

When Zachary Smith noticed how many jackets were piled up in a lost and found box, he wondered if there might be a way to incorporate jackets into backpacks so the jackets aren’t inadvertently left behind.

Wendy Espinoza wondered if there wasn’t a better way to keep swimming goggles from fogging.

The three Grand Valley students are among the latest graduates of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy who’ve made solving problems their businesses.

Coordinated by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, the program  turns middle and high school students into the chief executive officers of startup ventures. They come up with new products and services, write business plans, pitch their ideas to investors and develop their brands. By the end of the program, they oversee fully functioning enterprises they can continue to operate.

More than 60 volunteers support the program, said Terri Smatla, a workforce coordinator with the chamber who also organizes the program. That includes local business leaders, guest speakers and others who work with students.

The program is the only one of its kind in Colorado, Smatla said.

Other graduates of the fourth class of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy include Makalya Martinez, who invented a utility vest for dogs; Autumn Green, who created a lawn sprinkler system with sensors; Raeleigh Abbott, who crossed a food truck with a clothing store to come up with a traveling boutique; and Jaxon Monroe, who developed a way to use paper to make fireplace logs. Kearstyn Williams also completed the program.

Henderson, a 15-year-old freshman who attends Mesa Valley Community School, said writing a business plan for her venture, called In a Pinch, was one of the most difficult challenges in the program.

The most rewarding part of the program? “Working with people and talking with people, which is very fun for me,” Henderson said.

Espinoza, an 18-year-old junior at Central High School, says she’s been swimming for three years and thought their had to be a better product to keep her goggles from fogging.

Anti-fog sprays are available, she said, but can cause stinging if it gets in your eyes.

So she developed a product she calls Foggles, a de-fogging substance dispensed in a tube.

Problem solved.