How young is too young to start your business? Who’s to say that your first idea isn’t the idea that will catapult you into early success? That’s exactly what NFTE (Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship) wants to find out with their yearly Startup Summer program. This program pairs young aspiring business tycoons with mentors for an 8-week program to help them fine-tune their business plans for the opportunity to attract investors to help actualize their ideas.
This year's program culminated on Wednesday, September 20th, at Chelsea’s AppNexus building for NFTE’s Startup Summer Investment panel. The main event for this panel rounded up three driven teens to have them pitch their business ideas to a distinguished panel of judges for the chance to earn a piece of a $10,000 prize. Basically, you could call it "Teen Shark Tank".
The panel of judges for this event were David Heath, Co-Founder & CEO of Bombas, Jonathan D. Harber, Co-Founder of StartEd, Shabnam Rezaei, Co-Founder & President of Big Bad Boo Studios and Oznoz.com, Julie Shin, Head of Strategic Operations and Innovative Productivity at Citi, and Dominic Brewer, Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of NYU Steinhardt.
The first of the three teen entrepreneurs that presented that evening was Eddie Andujar, a 10th grader from the Chelsea Career & Technical Education High School. His company thunderNYC makes personalized laser-engraved skateboards. His presentation was casual, and at times hilarious, with his main hook to the judges being his low cost and higher quality decks than some of the larger brands on the market. Next up was Stefanie Nelson, a 12th grader from the Business of Sports School, whose company Superior is trying to create a central conference in NYC for coaches and scouts from the top schools in the country can see some of the city’s best high school softball prospects. And the last entrepreneur of the night was Cheyenne Sookoo, a Graduate of Brooklyn High School of the Arts. Her pitch was for her company Events on Canvas that started as a way for her to express her artistic creativity as a party favor at corporate and private events. Sookoo’s company provides a service where her, and eventually a team of trained employees, create oil paintings on the spot at events where guests can engage with the artists while they work.
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After their pitches, the judges were given a few minutes to grill each presenter about possible hiccups in their business plans. At the end, the judges left the room as they took time to decide how the start-up capital would be divided amongst the three companies. During this time, four more young entrepreneurs gave quick one-minute “elevator pitches” to win $500 to help get their businesses off the ground. The audience texted in their votes and crowned Felix Santos, a 12th grader from the Business of Sports School, and his youth-centric online employment site InstaJob the winner.
Finally, the moment of truth came as the judges named Cheyenne Sookoo and her company Events on Canvas the winner. She was awarded the lion’s share of the prize money with $6,000. Not to leave them empty-handed, Andujar and Nelson were each awarded $2,000 and all three of these newly christened CEOs left the event with some priceless advice from the night’s judges.