Summer boot camp equips young entrepreneurs

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By Corey Davis, Staff Writer, The Rocky Mount Telegram

Here’s a way to help grow the local economy: encourage young people to invest back into their communities.

For the past two weeks, teenagers were given the opportunity to explore entrepreneurship and better understand the entrepreneurial process.

The N.C. Cooperative Extension Community & Rural Development Programs in Nash and Edgecombe counties held its second annual teen entrepreneurial summer boot camp for campers at the East Carolina Agriculture and Education Center.

During the interactive camp, local small business owners and representatives from local business resource centers served as guest panelists and gave about 30 campers information on what it takes to start and sustain a business. Jamilla Hawkins, community and rural development agent for the Edgecombe County Extension Service, said the campers learned business skills that can be carried over into building stronger communities.

“To be an entrepreneur, you’ve got to be a self-starter, set smart goals, have confidence in yourself and have direction,” Hawkins said. “We believe they’ve learned skills that are transferable, and they can apply those skills in every area of their life.”

Jamilla Hawkins, Edgecombe County Extension Agent; LaChaun Banks, Economic Development Coordinator
Jamilla Hawkins, Edgecombe County Extension Agent; LaChaun Banks, Economic Development Coordinator

The conclusion of the camp was highlighted by the business pitch competition Thursday. Four teams analyzed their community, identified unmet opportunities for providing products or services and researched and wrote a business plan for the enterprise they chose. Campers presented a final eight-minute presentation in front of a panel of six local community leaders and business owners, who served as judges and potential investors. The concept mirrored the television show “Shark Tank,” where aspiring entrepreneurs make business presentations to a group of wealthy investors.

The judges graded the presentation based on most feasible business to start, best presentation and most unique business idea. The reward was an $800 scholarship to attend the Rocky Mount Chamber of Commerce Young Entrepreneurs Academy. The campers came up with a variety of business ideas from an amusement park to a day care to a dance studio.

As in “Shark Tank,” the judges had hard-hitting questions for the campers to answer. The judges later complemented the campers for having the courage to showcase their business plans in front of an audience. The judges also advised the young entrepreneurs on the significance of being confident, enthusiastic and having their finances in order when presenting their plans to business investors.

LaChaun Banks, economic development coordinator for the University North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flager Business School, said the exercise helped the campers understand how to prepare for a pitch in front of business owners. Banks said her job is to support entrepreneurship in Eastern North Carolina.

She said she hopes these types of programs will empower local youth to start something in their own communities rather than going outside the area.

Traci Dixon, community and rural development agent for the Nash County Extension Service, said the program was filling a void.

“We had the idea to start this after we saw a lot of places closing in Nash and Edgecombe counties,” she said. “We saw that we had a lot of things for adults, such as giving the incentive to go back to community college. But we wanted to show our youth that you can start now and you don’t have to wait to start something. If you know what you want, it will help with what education you need to get. As things are kind of going down, these kids can bring small businesses in their areas and invest in their own communities.”