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Youth entrepreneurs helped fuel the energy and excitement of Denver Startup Week for a third straight year! Youth Pass, a partnership between Young Americans Center’s YouthBiz program, Junior Achievement and Denver Startup Week, enabled students to participate in event workshops, to lead panel discussions, to compete for cash prizes, and to pitch their business ideas to Colorado entrepreneurs and business leaders throughout the week of September 16-20.
A highlight of the week occurred on Tuesday afternoon with the Youth Pass Pitch Challenge. Mirroring the adult Pitch Challenge, Youth Pass provided an opportunity for youth-owned businesses to pitch to a panel of judges. Four businesses took part: Luke Aden Photography created by Luke Aden, The Teen Entrepreneur created by Shouken Lopez, Katch created by Jack McConnell, and Oasis created by Mia Hayden and Melanie Zhou. Luke, who is a senior at Dakota Ridge High School, felt honored to participate: “The fact that teens have this opportunity is so exciting, and my goal is to hit the ground running whether I win or not.” Vice President of YouthBiz, Anna Leer, watched these entrepreneurs grow throughout the process of preparing for their pitch. “This experience has pushed them way beyond what’s comfortable,” she said. “Watching them grow, think, and develop what they really want for their business has been truly awe-inspiring for me and for everyone involved.”
Team Oasis ended up taking top honors at the Youth Pass Pitch Challenge. Inspired to take action after a friend’s suicide, Mia and Melanie created Oasis to provide a physical “Oasis” space in schools for students to seek emotional care. After winning the Youth Pass Pitch Challenge, Oasis went on to compete against 19 other (adult-owned) businesses for a chance at the Denver Startup Week Pitch Challenge Finals. Mia and Melanie wowed the judges again, and they went on to win the Grand Prize Package worth $100,000!
Youth entrepreneurs also participated in the third annual YouthBiz Marketplace and Expo at Denver Startup Week. While some of the 19 participants had long-established businesses, others, like 11-year-old Hannah, made their debut at the event. Hannah’s business, Simply Denver Soap Company, sells all-natural soaps for people with sensitive skin, just like her. For Hannah, talking to people about her products was, “a lot of fun!” She even made a few connections with business owners that would like to sell her soap in their shops. Marketplace visitors were also delighted and impressed with their experience. Entrepreneur and Denver Startup Week Participant Martin Rosenberg wrote on Twitter, “The young entrepreneurs here at #DENStartupWeek‘s Future of Entrepreneurship event were all so impressive, and I can’t thank @yacenter enough for putting this event on. I look forward to buying from all of them.”
Youth Pass 2019 wrapped up with a panel discussion called Making It: Achieve Success in the Maker Movement at Any Age. Four young entrepreneurs led the discussion: Gabe Nagel, creator of Gabe’s Bazaar, Chloe Warren, Co-Owner of Sweet Bee Sisters, Claire Fisk, creator of Wonderful Words, and Evan Hoing, Owner of Evan Hoing Woodworking. In addition to sharing their stories, the entrepreneurs provided inspiration for getting started in the Maker Movement. Claire’s advice was simple: “Say yes! There’s so many opportunities if you just decide to say yes!” Gabe added, “Be persistent. Keep trying and don’t give up.”
Through Denver Startup Week Youth Pass, youth entrepreneurs gained real world experience in running a business, pitching an idea and networking with the Colorado business community. And the real value of this week was that adult entrepreneurs could witness and interact with the future of entrepreneurship in our state.