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The last year has been difficult, but despite the obstacles, many young business owners have demonstrated their true entrepreneurial prowess through adaptability, perseverance, and critical thinking. The three winners from the 2020 Spotlight on YouthBiz Stars Business Competition are three such business owners who have emerged from the pandemic stronger than ever. They all have shown increased business acumen, motivation, and appreciation for the Spotlight on YouthBiz Stars Business Competition experience.
Since winning the 6-11 age category last year, Julia Doolittle, owner of Olaf’s Dog Cookies, has been able to expand her direct-to-consumer customer base, increase her retail sales channels, and even expand outside of Colorado. Olaf’s Dog Cookies offers homemade dog treats in a variety of flavors and sizes. Julia expectantly awaits the return of in-person marketplaces so that she can reconnect with her customers face to face. Julia’s advice to business owners who might be nervous about applying is “Just try your best, and even if you don’t win, you’ll know what to do differently next year.” Her favorite part of the competition was meeting with her mentor, Jena Hausman, CEO of Children’s Hospital Colorado. Julia also loved the chance to connect with other young entrepreneurs and learn about their businesses.
Maile McManis, the winner in the 12-15 age category, has been equally busy during the last year. Her business, Sewing with Smiles, sells a variety of hand-sewn cosmetic bags, produce bags, and gift bags. Over the last year, Maile has expanded her line of products to include season-specific products for both spring and holiday seasons. About her experience as a winner, Maile said, “Being recognized for my hard work was really nice, as was getting mentors to help talk through my business ideas.” Maile adds that her mentors, Bob and Judi Newman, Denver business and philanthropy leaders, have counseled her to really focus on quality and not rush through her projects. She also notes that the prize money has allowed her to invest in new equipment that has improved her product quality. Maile’s advice to potential applicants is, “…to not overthink it, and to go for it. I didn’t win the competition the first year I applied but I still learned a lot and was inspired to work harder for the future. Anytime you get to focus on your business and tell your story, it is a positive experience.”
Our 16-21 category winner, Leonard Shearer, took full advantage of the fact that his business was already fully online. His business, Cardbound, LLC sells rare Pokemon cards and other hobby goods. Since his win in October, Leonard has been able to, incredibly, increase his sales between 200%-300% compared to the same period the prior year! He’s also been strategizing with his mentor, Raju Patel of Bank of America, on ways to expand his business. Leonard says of the experience, “The biggest benefit has been my mentorship with Raju. He has helped me systematically think through the issues my business is facing and how to respond to them.” Leonard also encourages all young business owners to apply to the competition. “If you’re not sure whether to apply, I recommend just going for it. The worst-case scenario is you receive helpful feedback on how to improve, and the best case is winning and being paired with a mentor.” Looking toward the future, Leonard is particularly excited about a planned trip to Japan, when he hopes to visit several card shops and purchase some very rare cards for his business customers.
It’s clear that all of our 2020 Spotlight on YouthBiz Stars winners have made the most of the last year to grow and expand their businesses. At Young Americans Center for Financial Education, we can’t wait to meet the talented applicants of 2021, and witness all the incredible business growth they have in store for them!
If you or someone you know is a young business owner between the ages of 6-21, we encourage them to apply to the Spotlight on YouthBiz Stars Business Competition! More information on the application process can be found here. All applicants receive customized business feedback from our distinguished panel of judges. Two finalists and one winner are awarded for each age category, with a total of $10,000 awarded in prize money and the chance to be paired with a leading business mentor. Apply Now!