Vermont’s Future is in Great Hands with These Budding Young Entrepreneurs
By Priyanka Prakasha
Every July, VtSBDC looks forward to assisting with the annual, week-long entrepreneurial program for local high school students, put on by the Governor’s Institutes of Vermont. This event holds a special place in VtSBDC business advisor and student entrepreneurship specialist, Laurel Butler’s, heart. So, she was more than happy to take on the challenge of directing the event virtually this year, for the first time ever due to COVID-19. Laurel, along with her Co-Assistant Director Tamie-Jo Dickinson and three program mentors, developed and delivered several new creative and innovative offerings. This past year, our lives have been entirely consumed by our devices. We have all had to work, play, and learn through screens. This can be very distracting as the urge to multitask grows stronger. We could be listening to a lecture or working on an assignment, when all of a sudden the temptation to scroll through social media strikes. It happens to the best of us. Then, there is the fatigue that comes with constantly staring at a screen.
This was one of the numerous challenges that Laurel had to face when running the live group pitches virtually. She worried about focus and engagement. She didn’t know how to capture the kids’ interest when they would be spending almost nine hours a day online, especially during their summer vacations. The students that participated were from all over the state. They didn’t know each other and they only had about five to six hours to come up with a business idea. Despite all of these hurdles, Laurel says that these were some of the best presentations that she’s seen in her eight years of doing this. As someone who was there as a judge, I can attest to the fact that they were all extremely impressive. So, how was everyone able to pull this off given the less than ideal circumstances?
Laurel attributes the success of the pitches to the specific guidelines and parameters that each of the groups were given. The product or service had to incorporate sustainability and appeal to teenagers and college-aged adults. Additionally, the pitch couldn’t go over six minutes. This structure definitely helped guide the students, but I think what was even more valuable was the mentorship they received. I had the pleasure of speaking to one of the mentors, Teddy Turnau, who also happens to be a summer intern at VtSBDC this year. Teddy participated in GIV when he was in high school, and says that it helped spark a curiosity and passion in him, so much so that he is now a community entrepreneurship major at UVM. Teddy became a mentor with the hopes that he could pass on that spark and that passion to this year’s group of participants. By the looks of the presentations, I’d say that he was very successful in this endeavor.
While all of the groups this year did an excellent job, one group in particular really stood out from the crowd. This group was Vermontivities, led by Andrew Boyce from Hartford High School, Michael Fernandez from Thetford Academy, Bevin Dean from Lake Champlain Waldorf School, and Chloe Anderson from Burr & Burton Academy. Vermontivities aims to provide opportunities for teens in Vermont through accessible resources for school support and fun. The organization would help teens looking for college support and tips, job/volunteering opportunities, SAT help, and much more. This group was voted as having the best pitch and was rewarded with a $50 cash prize from VtSBDC for each team member.
The innovation and creativity displayed during the competition made me hopeful for Vermont’s future. It is crucial to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit from a young age, and that’s exactly what GIV does. The students gained problem-solving, communication, and leadership skills, all of which are important attributes of an entrepreneur. I am so glad to have been a part of this experience and cannot wait to see what these kids do next.
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