By: Anne Dewvall
As the school year gives way to summer across the state, I am revisiting the past year of youth entrepreneurship at NetWork Kansas. Through our Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge (YEC) series, E-Communities host local entrepreneurship competitions for students ranging in age from 7th to 12th grade. The 2015-2016 school year marked our third successive year partnering with communities at the local level to organize these events.
This year, the number of E-Communities participating doubled from 11 in 2014-2015 to 22. A total of 16 YEC series competitions were held across the state representing more than 30 schools. A total of 242 talented young entrepreneurs representing 151 business ideas competed for prize money, and the honor of advancing to the state competition at KSU in April.
The numbers only tell part of the story. There were so many examples of communities going above and beyond to educate and inspire students. The towns of Marion and Hillsboro partnered to host their first-ever competition on the campus of Tabor College. The small northwest Kansas town of Bird City continues to hold a thriving event – in a town numbering 450, having 10 students participate actually represents more than 2% of the population! Cowley County was another community that hosted a first-time event and they brought together students from across the county to compete at Cowley College. Cherokee County continued to grow with a second-year event that represented more school districts and students than ever! These are only a handful of the many success stories at the community level.
The students were another story of success. From first-time competitors learning about entrepreneurship to seasoned pros, the state of Kansas is full of entrepreneurial young minds. Christian Calliham, a Colby student who won the NetWork Kansas YEC regional event in northwest Kansas last year, returned to win his high school competition for the second year in a row with a completely new business idea. Max Pierce is a Cherokee County student who was so serious about his business idea, he spent his Christmas money on marketing materials and product packaging. Jade Artzer is a teenager who is already an established business owner continuing to look for new marketing channels to sell her bread mix. The Marion/Hillsboro event was full of active young entrepreneurs selling products. I came home from that event with an armful of purchases, ranging from bath scrubs to seasoned nuts. Each YEC series competition was full of unique ideas, talented minds, and hardworking young entrepreneurs.
Two dozen of these business ideas advanced to the Kansas Entrepreneurship Challenge (KEC) hosted by K-State in partnership with NetWork Kansas. Dozens of students and their supporters braved dangerous spring weather to drive to Manhattan for an exclusive day of competition and inspiration. After a whirlwind pitch round, six high school businesses advanced to the final round, where an E-Community team from Altamont took the top prize. The results show high achieving entrepreneurs from across the state, but that’s only part of the picture. Without the dedication of E-Community volunteers, teachers, parents, our partners and judges, and the students, a competition like the KEC would never be possible. Seeing so many people in one room excited about pursuing entrepreneurial ideas makes all of us at NetWork Kansas so optimistic. The students who participate in these competitions may never grow into business owners, but I’m hopeful their experiences help cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset that is open to all the possibilities our state can offer for their future.
As this school year draws to a close, we’re already thinking about the 2016-2017 season. So many teachers and community leaders have already contacted us with questions about next year that it’s impossible not to! We’ll continue growing. The local level is where we believe we can make the biggest difference together. It’s my hope that we’ll see a number of new YEC series events next year with even more participation – and hopefully expand into larger cities as well. We’re working on plans for the YEC series, competitions, and other youth entrepreneurship expansion right now. Watch for announcements later this summer.
In closing, we would like to say “thank you” once again to everyone who helped make the YEC series a possibility. We are thankful for the partnership of so many people across Kansas!