Custom art to personalize headphones, artisan cat toys and a clothing line.
Those were just a few of the ideas presented Friday at Entrepreneurship Pitch Night, an event hosted by Computers4Kids and Charlottesville’s Office of Economic Development that saw six middle and high school students float their business ideas with the hope of winning investment capital.
“It’s an opportunity for the kids to explore and think outside the box,” said Tricia Howell, program director for Computers4Kids.
The competition was the culmination of a weeklong entrepreneurship summer camp in which students learned about running a business, in addition to developing business plans and products and creating pitches.
Howell said the camp, now in its third year, has matured.
“It used to be about creating a business, so the ideas were mostly about services like babysitting and dog walking, but now we’re focused on getting the kids to create something,” she said. “That’s sort of the movement in business now, we want people to be innovators and creators.”
Along with her sister Niedia, Brittany Washington, a ninth-grader at Charlottesville High School, started a custom sticker design business aimed at personalizing headphones. The camp, Brittany said, taught her that entrepreneurship isn’t easy.
“It takes a lot of work, but if you keep your mind on it, and if you really want it that bad, I believe that you can succeed,” Brittany said.
Keshawna Nelson, a ninth-grader at Charlottesville High who designs T-shirts, bags and jeans, agreed.
“You have to figure out money, you have to figure out what you’re going to make and how you’re going to make it,” she said, noting that the process of locating and pricing materials for her fashion line was the project’s most challenging aspect.
Raven Mowry, a seventh-grader at Buford Middle School, asked the judges for $100 to start her business hand-sewing cat toys.
“I see all these cats that are sick because of the stuffing that’s in their toys,” Raven said. “But I’m using cat nip because it’s organic, natural and cats love it.”
After seeing his campmates designing so many products, Trevoris Hines, a ninth-grader at Albemarle High School, developed a website similar to ETSY to sell the items.
“It can ultimately become an online market,” Trevoris told the judges. “I would ask for a small percentage once the products start selling.”
The judges from this year’s panel were Deb McMahon, CEO of Scitent; Joe Jennings, founder and CEO of BeHealth Solutions; Nareen Scott, Mary Kay independent beauty consultant and recruiter; and Kathy Galvin, owner of Galvin Architects and a member of Charlottesville’s City Council.
“I love that they have the courage to get up and pitch their ideas, and that they haven’t been jaded by people telling them that they can’t do something,” McMahon said.
Galvin agreed, adding that the process of trial and error is essential to success.
“It’s a different way of learning that is bringing back the love of learning,” Galvin said. “There’s a lot of fun and a lot of creativity involved in these projects.”
The judges awarded funding and advice to each pitch.
Brittany and Niedia received funding contingent on further developing their ideas.
The judges praised Trevoris’ concept, but encouraged him to consider product delivery.
Raven’s product testing impressed the judges, who awarded her $100.
Differentiating her fashion products from those of her competitors was the advice the panel offered Keshawna.
Srush Mohammed, a seventh-grader at Buford Middle School who pitched sculptures he made, was encouraged to develop a business name and a marketing plan.