Youth Entrepreneurship Contests Provide Participants with Real-World Experience

This article appeared in the November 2019 NCRPC Newsletter.

Empowering students to develop an idea and solve a problem through entrepreneurship might help spark the entrepreneurial pipeline in communities. That possibility is reason enough for several to host local contests for students.

Clay County will host its fifth youth entrepreneurship contest in December. According to Clay County Economic Development Group Executive Director Lori Huber, the process is valuable.

“The contest gives students an opportunity to think about work differently,” Huber said. “Even if they do not go on to have their own business, this can make them a better employee because they have an understanding of how a business works.”

Image of 2019 Republic County Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge Winners

2019 Republic County Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge Winners. Photo courtesy of Republic County Economic Development.

Republic County will host its fourth local youth entrepreneurship competition in March. According to Republic County Economic Development Executive Director Luke Mahin, hosting the event each year has many benefits.

“For most of the students, this is the first time in their lives they are given permission to dream of a future where they are working and living in Republic County. This is their opportunity to solve a problem through entrepreneurship with a product or service, sometimes both,” Mahin said. “At a minimum, it helps them become better citizens learning the value of our local economy, budgeting, communication, and leadership.”

Lincoln County will also host a local competition in March — the third that Lincoln County Economic Development Foundation Executive Director Kelly Larson has organized.

“The more students who are exposed to entrepreneurship now improves our chances they will become business owners in the future,” Larson said.

These local events encourage students to prepare an executive summary/business plan, a 4-minute presentation, and a trade show booth.

Because Clay, Lincoln and Republic counties are all designated NetWork Kansas E-Communities, their local events are part of the NetWork Kansas Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge (YEC) Series. During the 2018-2019 academic year, 865 students competed in 40 local competitions.

The top team or alternate from each YEC Series local competition qualifies to compete at the Kansas Entrepreneurship Challenge at Kansas State University. Students can also apply to earn a wildcard spot. In April 2019, four student entrepreneurs/teams from North Central Kansas received awards at the state competition.

Planning a successful local-level youth competition takes time.

“My advice is to start small and know that it can take time to grow,” Huber said. “Building connections with schools and partnerships with teachers is important.”

Event organizers agree that the ideas and businesses showcased at the local competitions are impressive.

“I’ve been shocked to see in our third year how many existing businesses are competing,” Mahin said. “Two of our three state KEC qualifiers were already making real sales in the county. Bomb Creations was selling products at the Depot Market and Otter Creek Farms purchased a downtown building in Republic and is looking to remove a blighted home near her garden for expansion. These businesses are already making a real-world impact with their prize money.”

Communities that are not part of the E-Community partnership can participate in the YEC Series, but are required to pay a $1,500 sanction application fee. The sanction application deadline for the 2019-2020 season has passed, but planning for the future could begin anytime. To help offset the cost, communities in the region may apply for up to $750 in grant assistance from the NCK Rural Business Development Initiative that NCRPC manages. To learn more about the YEC series, visit https://www.networkkansas.com/ecommunities/youth/youth-entrepreneurship-challenge.

2019 Kansas Entrepreneurship Challenge Winners from the Region

Existing Business Division:
Honorable mention — Julia Rieger, Clay Center Community Middle School, Clay Center, for jBev Studio & Design

Agriculture Division:
Honorable mention — Cassandra Aleshire and Elizabeth Huskey, Lincoln High School, Lincoln, for Aleshire Farms

Honorable mention — Jena Kunc and Dylan White, Republic County High School, Belleville, for Otter Creek Farms

Open Division:
Grand prize  — Cassie Stickler, Pike Valley High School, Scandia, for The Bomb Lip Balm


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