Last week TrendsetterZ.com beat out Vroom!, High Rollers, Dawg Waggin’ and Second City Teens as top entrepreneurs. In the final step in the entrepreneurship camp at Youth Organizations Umbrella, 20 high school students pitched their business concepts to a panel of experts and a willing audience in an evening that was part "Shark Tank" and part "American Idol."
Y.O.U.’s YES: Youth Entrepreneurship Summer Camp immersed the students in entrepreneurship. Victoria Krone, an intern at Y.O.U., developed the program for Y.O.U. based on a similar one developed by a friend at the University of Minnesota, said Y.O.U. Executive Director Seth Green.
The program was designed to help youth "think about their future and have them see what it takes to get there – success in high school, college completion," said Mr. Green. Along the way, the students learned many business skills.
Ms. Krone said she was "bowled over by the students and what they did in five weeks."
At the July 30 presentation, a panel of business experts asked questions and offered advice to the young entrepreneurs. Panel members’ questions elicited information about business plans, market research and the practicalities of the students’ first steps into the world of commerce.
TrendsetterZ.com was a fashion website offering the latest teen fashions. Alanna Williams, Kelsea Frazier, Shauntel Neal and Matthew Auston said they would find the latest fashions and, through partnerships with retailers, offer the clothing and accessories through the TrendsetterZ.com website. "Find trends, buy trends and set trends with TrendsetterZ.com" was their slogan and their promise. They said their market research showed "90 percent said they would go to our site and would buy clothes."
The business panel said they "loved the concept – you’ve identified the need." Their recommendation was to "get out of the retail business. Warehousing is a cost – just identify trends and have people click through your website."
Scooters would be the new mode of transportation in Evanston and college areas of Chicago, according to the developers of Vroom! That business would rent scooters by the day, week or semester to students at Northwestern, DePaul, Loyola and University of Illinois at Chicago. A scooter, they said, is a good way "to impress someone on a first date." The group – Chris Coronel, Ben Moberly, Shaun Myles and Dixon Chan – also planned a "Scooter Awareness Day."
Response from the business panel was positive. "This is a great idea … [for] people in Evanston who don’t want to go far … It would be easy to bring it to multiple locations … You have a lot of people who could [rent] it for you: – e.g. hotels, Northwestern dorms."
The slogan for this group on the go is "Get rid of that boring old car – a great experience is waiting."
High Rollers on the West Side
High Rollers Imani Henry, Jonathon Connerly-Bey, Nikkole Wade and Tiaira Scott would like to see an indoor skating rink in the southwest corner space of Evanston Plaza that once housed a plant and craft shop. Their revenue would come from admissions, food, skate rentals and arcade games. They planned not only to make a profit but to "give some of the profits to Y.O.U." Remarks from the business panel included "Think through cost structure a little more;" "This is a community that would use it a lot;" and "Given the real estate marker, there could be great space available." Asked whether the City might give them a tax break, one of the group responded, "We would take that up with the mayor. She wanted a bowling alley there."
Dawg Waggin’ – Organic Fast Food Around Town
Dawg Waggin’, said owners/operators Kerrian Miller, Sam Carvajal, Ashley Parker Madete would offer organic fast food on a cart. The group identified food deserts in Evanston, notably Evanston Township High School and "a few other places, mostly in south Evanston." Food on the wagon would be "excellent and value-priced," they said. The group would like to offer food at ETHS, both at the school itself and at athletic events where food is not now sold – any sport except basketball and football, they said. But ETHS would be just the first stop on an Evanston-wide tour for this food cart. "We hope to establish ourselves as a local brand," they said. Dawg Waggin’ would donate 5 percent of their profits to the ETHS Boosters Club.
"It’s a great idea to have a mobile food cart" and "Kids will love the food option" panel members responded.
Second City Teens: "To Keep Other Teens Informed"
Zoe Johannsen, Chelcy Coronel, Carla Orduno and Denzel Blaies comprised "the most adamant groups to see that teens don’t get bored" said Ms. Krone. These teens would post information and reviews about events throughout the Chicago area to alert other teens know what’s happening. Their market research, they said, showed a "potential of 250,000 teens who would come to the website." They would hire other ETHS students to write comments or reviews. "It will give teens a chance to write for the web, a chance to have a job," they said. Their mission statement was "By teens, for teens – to keep other teens informed." Their slogan was "Find fun, have fun – Second City Teens."
"We don’t want adults," they said straight-faced to the business panel, whose members responded only to the proposal.
To the question, "Have you thought about who would advertise?" they responded, "Ticketmaster and Stubhub."
The panel seemed as impressed by the teens themselves as by their proposal. One member said, "What’s going to set it apart is going to be content – not aggregating but your voice, your writing."
After the presentations, Mr. Green gave $203 in Monopoly money to each of the approximately 100 audience members and asked them to "invest" in one of the projects. TrendsetterZ.com led the others in capturing erstwhile venture capital.
"We far exceeded our expectations," Mr. Green told the RoundTable. "The business panel shows how invested this community is." Thirty-five business professionals volunteered their time over the course of the camp, he said. "What we found is that people really love the idea of sharing their skills. … From our perspective, this has been the greatest volunteer opportunity we have seen.
"We wanted to get kids sparked about their future." Even though a couple of the business concepts from the July 30 presentation are still moving forward, he said, "Our goal was kids. One purpose of the July 30 presentation was "to have kids see how valuable they are and [see] their importance to this community. They should be the center of attention. They can and do wondering things."