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Killer ideas: Young entrepreneurs pitch investors at 'Shark Tank'-like event

MOORHEAD - They may not have graduated from high school yet, but 10 area teens are already well on their way to becoming successful entrepreneurs.

Josh Teigen, founder of Crossfox Innovation Consulting, is the program director of the inaugural Young Entrepreneurs Academy. Teigen helps YEA! students brainstorm ideas, write a business plan and pitch the idea to investors. (Submitted photo)
Josh Teigen, founder of Crossfox Innovation Consulting, is the program director of the inaugural Young Entrepreneurs Academy. Teigen helps YEA! students brainstorm ideas, write a business plan and pitch the idea to investors. (Submitted photo)

MOORHEAD – They may not have graduated from high school yet, but 10 area teens are already well on their way to becoming successful entrepreneurs.

The students are members of the inaugural Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) hosted by the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber.

Since late September, the students have been touring local businesses, brainstorming ideas, working with mentors and writing their own business plans. On Wednesday, March 16, they'll pitch their ideas to a panel of investors during a "Shark Tank" event based on the popular ABC television series.

Representatives from North Dakota State University, Minnesota State University Moorhead, Concordia College and several other YEA! supporters will split $7,500 in sponsorship dollars among the students and select an overall winner to compete in the semifinals in Rochester, N.Y.

'The Pitch'

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The Young Entrepreneurs Academy is a national nonprofit based in Rochester that partners with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to provide after-school programming for young entrepreneurs.

The FMWF Chamber was first approached to take part about two years ago. Elly Peterson, the Chamber's government affairs and advocacy coordinator and one of the YEA! program managers, said the group took a year to speak with teachers, school officials and business leaders to ensure they wouldn't duplicate existing programs.

Last spring, registration was opened to students in grades six through 12. Ten students representing Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo were selected to participate.

The group meets three hours a week throughout the school year. During the first 10 weeks, known as "The Big Idea," students visited unique businesses in the area.

"They heard business leaders talk about their entrepreneurial story, their business and professional life, and the journey they took," Peterson said.

Students also spent time brainstorming their own business ideas.

The following 10 weeks, known as "The Pitch," involved students working one-on-one with business mentors to develop a business plan and prepare a pitch for the "Shark Tank" event.

Tracy Powell, the Chamber's director of events and programs and YEA! program coordinator, said each student has an ask amount to get his or her business up and running. They'll give a 5-minute presentation and then the investors will be allowed to ask three questions.

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Once everyone is done, the investors will determine how to divide the money and pick a winner to compete at the semifinals in Rochester. Six students will be selected to advance to the nationals at America's Small Business Summit in Washington, D.C., where they will compete for a start-up package and college scholarships worth up to $50,000.

The program is not just about this competition, however. All 10 students will move on to the final phase, known as "The Launch." Each will be awarded enough money to hire help to build a logo and website.

Peterson said their ideas range from tech-based apps to nonprofits to fashion and environmentally friendly transportation. She said what's so unique about the program is that nothing is hypothetical.

"They're actually building a business. When they're looking at doing their financials or their budget, it's their own budget and own business," she said. "They're walking through it with their mentor. It's really impressive to see these young kids able to tackle that. I think it's been impressive and eye-opening."

The chamber is accepting applications for the next session starting in September. The cost to participate is $395. Scholarships are available.

For more information, visit www.fmwfchamber.com .

If you go

What: YEA! Shark Tank event

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When: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Barry Auditorium at Concordia College's Offutt School of Business

Cost: There is no charge, but registration is preferred. To register, visit www.fmwfchamber.com or call (218) 233-1100.

Josh Teigen, founder of Crossfox Innovation Consulting, is the program director of the inaugural Young Entrepreneurs Academy. Teigen helps YEA! students brainstorm ideas, write a business plan and pitch the idea to investors. (Submitted photo)
Program director Josh Teigen assists Sydney Ulrich of Davies High School at a YEA! event earlier this year. (Submitted photo)

Angie Wieck is the business editor for The Forum. Email her at awieck@forumcomm.com
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