Phil Castle, The Business Times
Toly Chinn wanted to keep his bicycle from getting scratched. Jordan Smith wanted to charge her cell phone at night without worrying about the threat of fire. Zoie Whitesides and Lillian Bittle enjoy cooking.
There are as many origin stories behind their ventures as there are students in the latest class at the Young Entrepreneurs Academy in Grand Junction — 10 to be exact. What the students share in common is their interest in operating their own businesses as well as their expectations to continue to do so at some point in their careers. Fostering that interest and developing the next generation of entrepreneurs is a big part of the program.
Coordinated by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, the Young Entrepreneurs Academy turns middle and high school students into the chief executive officers of startup ventures. Over the course of 30 weeks, the students 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.
Chinn, a 14-year-old eighth grader at Redlands Middle School, runs Colorado Bike Armor, a startup that sells a nylon wrap that protects bicycle frames from scratches and weathering.
Chinn won the people’s choice award for his division at the Young Entrepreneurs Academy Saunders Scholars Competition in New York.
Chinn won a local “Shark Tank” style pitch competition to join the 60 students at the national event. Chinn beat out 12 other students in his division to win the people’s choice award.
Darcy Weir, YEA program manager for the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, said the award was based on a text-to-vote campaign. “The amount of support Toly had from Grand Junction was really amazing.”
Weir said the chamber promoted voting. In addition, the principal at Redlands Middle School, which Chinn attends, made an announcement during a school day when the polls were open so students could vote for Chinn.
Smith, a 13-year-old eighth grader at Redlands Middle School, runs MyCharger. She developed a phone charger that cuts off after two hours to reduce the threat of fire when powering up phones at night.
Whitesides, a 12-year-old sixth grader at Redlands Middle School, operates Oops Bakery and offers customers a choice of dough and ingredients in the cookies she bakes for them.
Bittle, an 18-year-old student who’s home schooled, runs Lily’s Truffles and makes and sells handmade truffles with custom flavors.
Other participants in the latest class are just as inventive with their ventures.
Kael Seivers, a 14-year-old eighth grader at West Middle School, has developed headphones with a computer card that work without a connection to a cell phone or computer.
John Miller, a 13-year-old seventh grader at Caprock Academy, markets a blanket with three layers that enables customers to sleep under the layer in which they’re most comfortable.
Tyler Hill, a 12-year-old sixth grader at Redlands Middle School, sells customized books based on how customers complete questionnaires.
Reigan Sander, a 14-year-old student who attends Redlands Middle School, invents and produces board and card games.
Kellen Piper, a senior at Fruita Monument High School student, offers a subscription service in which customers receive political merchandise.
Samuel Grover, an 11th grader at Central High School, offers online advertising for local restaurants.
The participants said starting and running businesses can be challenging, especially in making time for the ventures, school and other activities.
“You have to manage your time wisely,” Chinn said.
Sievers said it’s sometimes difficult to keep up. “There’s a gap between remembering things and actually doing them.”
Sander said there’s a process of trail and error to endure and entrepreneurs often have to improvise.
The participants were unanimous, though, in recommending the Young Entrepreneurs Academy.
And several of the participants said they hope to build on their experiences in the program and launch additional ventures.
Whitesides said she’d like to start a bakery. Bittle said she hopes to someday own a cafe and catering service.
For more information about the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, visit www.gjchamber.org/young-entrepreneurs-academy-yea.