LaPlace — Displaying varying degrees of poise — and nerves — and dressed to impress, 10 young adults took to the podium one by one on the John L. Ory School stage Thursday night.
After nervously adjusting the microphone for their own comfort, each took over the rather fickle computer clicker, stared down a panel of curious business men and women and made their pitch. Each one had an idea. Each one had a dream. So each one clicked through their own slide show presentation of a complete business plan for a group of would-be investors in order to get the startup money they felt they needed.
Jordan Brown, 17, of Paulina, wants to open a video memory business. Breanna Bailly, an eighth-grader from St. James, wants to open a tutoring service. Darrielle Robertson, a sixth-grader, wants to begin her own nail salon. Jarron Williams, a junior at East St. John High, wants to begin a website design service for local businesses. Hope Tobin, a sixth-grader from Destrehan, wants to open her own hair “bowtique.” Amira Baloney, a sophomore at Lutcher High, wants to produce and market water-fueled cellphone generators.
Kameron Fernandez, an eighth-grader from LaPlace, wants to begin his own graphics design service. Eden Keller, a junior at East St. John, wants to help local businesses promote their after-school activities to youngsters. Evan Simoneaux, an eighth-grader at St. Joan of Arc, wants to help students get better Spanish grades.
And Judy Chen, an East St. John junior, wants to help people eat better — beginning with her own brand of chocolate-flavored peanut butter.
They were all winners.
All 10 of the would-be entrepreneurs got all or most of the funds they requested and will be in business soon, complete with a new business checking account and website. But it was Chen, with her remarkable product and a thorough business plan to bring it to market, who was the overall winner. She received $1,000 in startup money and will travel to New York City next week to represent the area in the national competition. It’s all thanks to a program called the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, a national program that helps would-be entrepreneurs become real ones. Under the direction of the River Region Chamber of Commerce and program director Buddy Boe, these 10 youngsters from throughout the River Parishes persevered through a months-long class and Thursday night’s presentation in a River Parishes version of the television reality show, “Shark Tank.” Thursday night, the group made their presentations then sweated it out as the panel retired to choose a winner.
After a short break, each student was awarded all or most of the money requested. A total of $4,004 will be dispersed.
“I’m their instructor,” Boe said. “I don’t take any of the credit because, they’re smart.”
Boe said Chen’s presentation was clearly the best.
“Her business planning went so far, so deep, in looking at product sourcing, permits that she needs,” Boe said. “Her startup request was to have two-months’ supply. She already knew multiple locations where she was going to sell her products and they felt, overall, that her presentation was the best and would best represent the region.”
“I’m very excited,” Chen said as she accepted congratulatory hugs from family, friends and her classmates. “It’s not every day you get to go to New York. It’s definitely a big opportunity”
A self-proclaimed health-nut, Chen said she developed a taste for chocolate flavored peanut butter but was discouraged by the by-products it contained. She then set out to formulate her own, healthier version.
Boe was thrilled with the success of the program in its first year in the River Parishes.
“Hopefully we’ll have even more next year,” he said.