Article Published: August 31, 2014
Article Published: August 31, 2014
By Jill Berardi, Berardi Group LLC
Pittsburgh-area residents Derica Sanchez and Kara Rohlf were just handed a plane ticket to Silicon Valley.
Like other startup executives who visit the technology hub to raise capital, the women will travel to the Valley in the Fall to pitch their businesses. But in this unique opportunity, Derica and Kara’s pitches will be part of a national competition among an elite group of peers from across the country. The prize? $20,000 in cash and national notoriety.
The young women are just 16 and 17 years old.
The all-expense-paid trip comes courtesy of Entrepreneuring Youth (EYouth), a Pittsburgh non-profit helping middle school and high school youth develop the ability to create their own economic opportunities by guiding them to think and act like entrepreneurs and business creators.
EYouth acts like a startup accelerator for teens who want the experience of business creation but may know very little about it. Through EYouth, students like Derica and Kara get the knowledge, soft skills, and mentors to start companies and create products.
The Silicon Valley trip is the result of both women taking first place in their respective divisions during EYouth’s recent George W. Tippins Business Plan Competition.
What’s remarkable about both teens is their ability to quickly grow their ideas when given the individualized support to succeed.
Derica, a 16-year old attending Urban Pathways Charter School, started her handmade dog collar business after growing frustrated with the lack of unique options at stores. She envisioned handcrafting her own collars even though she had never touched a sewing machine before. EYouth introduced her to a mentor who taught her how to sew and how to buy discounted supplies. Derica then stitched a prototype and started selling her colorful collars at EYouth retail fairs for $20 each. “When I realized that others valued something that I created with my own hands, it gave me a lot of confidence,” she said.
Similarly, Kara Rohlf (a senior at Brownsville High School in the Fall) joined the EYouth program this year—and within 12 months—took home first prize in her UPSTART division, due to her impressive operating plan for a future fudge business.
At the start, she knew very little about being an entrepreneur. The fudge she and her Mom made had gotten great reviews, and so she used it as her product. With guidance, she soon whipped up a business plan and started pitching it. She went all the way to first place in her division this summer. Kara now believes good presentation skills hold the power in the business world. “They will help you get almost anywhere,” she says.
Hundreds of local youth have started their own businesses with the help of EYouth. But if you ask EYouth’s President and Co-Founder, Jerry Cozewith, he’ll say that’s not the point. All of the value is in the learning along the journey.
“Every successful person needs to find and leverage support in order to succeed,” he explains. “Teens do too, some more than others. When given this guidance—along with knowledge and experience—teens will elevate their own expectations of what is possible. They’ll discover a part of themselves that they didn’t know. By seeing their businesses come to life (something unimaginable a year earlier), they’ll learn that they can control their own destiny and create more options. What better confidence builder than that of an entrepreneur’s journey and knowing that no matter the circumstances, you can find a way to go further and reach your goal.”