This September, 15 high school students got to put their entrepreneurial skills to the test as they participated in the Be Ready Challenge 2016. The students’ presentation on September 28th was the final phase of the three-part program where students were given the opportunity to pitch, start and then present their business ideas.
The Washburn University School of Business started the Be Ready Challenge event in 2015 using a Kansas Department of Commerce grant, which also helped to expand the area of participation for 2016. Business School Dean David Sollars explains, “We have an Entrepreneurship Program that’s fairly new. Be Ready is about getting high school students involved in the program and for them to think about their career options and opportunities.”
Starting in the spring, Rick LeJuerrne, lecturer of entrepreneurship at Washburn University, went to local high schools in the area to promote the competition and encourage students to participate. “Students then get to pitch their idea and the finalists get capital to work with, which is usually their biggest hurdle. They may have an idea, but they don’t have the financial tools to implement that idea,” said LeJuerrne.
Finalists received $500 each and were given the summer to build and develop their business. Students saved any revenue they generated, and this September presented to a panel of faculty, professionals, and students. The top three winners received scholarships to Washburn University.
Final presentations included a wide array of products, business ideas and services. First place winner, Rachel Taylor of Shawnee Heights High School, pitched her burgeoning country music career. “Rachael used the grant to record and produce CDs. Her product is her music, and she used the money to record CD quality songs to upload onto iTunes. She approached it from a business perspective,” said LeJuerrne.
Axel Olin Flores, who received second place, presented his cake company, Cakin’ Bakin’, which was already in the works before the Be Ready Challenge. “We meet students that are already doing it – they are already entrepreneurial. It takes a lot of time and energy and risk,” said LeJuerrne.
Third place winner, Madison Williams, presented Bee Charming, a bee-keeping and honey-related business. All three students left the challenge with scholarships to Washburn. The First Place winner received $2500 and second and third place received $1500 and $1000 respectively.
Be Ready is more than just a high school competition, it’s a way to encourage students in Kansas to think like a business owner. “It’s about creating jobs and self-employment,” said LeJuerrne. “It’s going to foster entrepreneurship in students that can create a self-employment opportunity or even build a high-tech high-growth business.”
Sparking an entrepreneurial mindset in students is why, this year, the Kansas Department of Commerce stepped in to sponsor the program. With the use of the grant provided by Kansas Commerce, Be Ready was able to grow from three to four participating counties. LeJuerrne visited sixteen high schools in the four counties and estimates the program was able to reach approximately 250 students this year, up from 105 the previous year.
Dean David Sollars said, “Because of the Department of Commerce, we were able to expand into Shawnee County.” While LeJuerrne added, “The Department of Commerce’s support was instrumental. It allowed us to increase our geographical scope.”
“The overall strategic vision of the Department of Commerce is to support entrepreneurs and small businesses. So we were very pleased to be able to support Washburn University and this program to encourage entrepreneurial thinking and doing at every stage. It’s not just for adults and big companies, our focus is also onto people that may develop something. It’s all a part of the Secretary’s strategic objective to develop a good environment for business,” said Director of Workforce Training & Education for the Department of Commerce Zoe Gruber. “It’s about growing the economy from within and seeding ideas and economic growth.”
Sponsoring events such as Be Ready goes along with the objective of the JumpStart Kansas Entrepreneurs program, a larger program that the Department of Commerce has created to help entrepreneurs achieve success from the ground floor.
LeJuerrne hopes to continue the expansion of the Be Ready Challenge, allowing Washburn University to inspire high school students and ignite their entrepreneurial mindset.