This article was contributed by Henry Hawthorne, Youth Program Coordinator, UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
The YEPex Youth Summit and Chancellor’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Challenge, now in its 7th year, provides high-schoolers first-hand access to the problem-solving entrepreneurial process and resources to continue to pursue their solutions after the competition’s end.
One facet of the entrepreneurial process I find fascinating is its simplicity. No, I’m not suggesting it’s easy to turn an idea into a steady growing and successful business in the long term, but there is something special about entrepreneurs—their process is open to anyone. All you need is the curiosity to notice a problem, the creativity to design a solution, and the passion and frankly the boldness to try and turn that solution into a business.
During the Chancellor’s Challenge, high schoolers are given the chance to try this process for themselves. Prior to the competition, students from eighteen counties in Southeastern North Carolina are tasked with finding a problem and working to create a business idea that helps solve it. In the months leading up to the competition, students learn “Lean Entrepreneurship” in their high school classrooms, then apply those fundamentals of efficient and effective entrepreneurship to form their business plan. In past years, students have worked on topics including applying to college, gaming, social media, and small business development.
Students then submit a 5-minute video pitch and executive summary to be considered by our judges in the competition’s preliminary round. During that process, judges focus on factors including the product’s value, the initial go to market plan, and the creativity of the presenter. Along with scoring, the judges provide each student team that submits with written feedback and suggestions. This round of judging narrows the field to six finalists, three with non-profit business or social venture ideas, and three with for-profit ideas.
In the final round, students face the challenge of turning their video presentations into clear, concise, and convincing pitches for a live audience and panel of judges. To aid in this process, students meet with UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Mentors to hone their presentations and ideas to a final form. At the CIE on April 18th, finalists will breakout into small group sessions with some of the foremost local leaders in business with years of experience developing Wilmington’s ventures and start-ups.
The process all culminates in the YEPex Youth Summit and Final Competition on April 29th from 10 am to 12 pm. UNCW Chancellor Jose Sartarelli and NC IDEA CEO Thom Ruhe will speak before the final competition begins. Afterwards, finalists present the final product of their months of work to judges, guest speakers, and their classmates for the chance at winning $1500 for first place, $1000 for second place, or $500 for third place in both the for-profit and non-profit tracks. Afterwards, students will have the chance to meet and get to know the experienced entrepreneur judges and speakers over lunch on the quad and go on a UNCW campus tour.
Our goal is to leave students with the resources, knowledge, connections, feedback, and confidence to continue the entrepreneur’s process of finding solutions and boldly seeking them out. And when they do, to know that the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) will be there to support them.
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