Middle school students from Des Plaines Elementary School District 62 recently pitched their business ideas to a panel of investors at the Young Entrepreneur Academy's Investment Panel.
"You could take it to a bank and apply for a loan," Barbara Ryan, the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce executive director, said of how well-thought out the business plans were.
The chamber-sponsored YEA program is in its second year. The students have been participating in this after-school program since October.
Through their weekly lessons, and with the assistance of mentors, they have learned how to write a business plan and market their business successfully. They have visited with successful business owners and have met with graphic designers and web developers.
Teachers, mentors, business hosts, guest speakers, and CEO advisers are all volunteers from the chamber. Financial support for the program comes from the Lewandowski Family Foundation, Oakton Community College and Rivers Casino.
The investor panel consisted of the following business professionals who contributed a minimum of $500 to the businesses: Rosemary Argus, Des Plaines Community Foundation; Ed Domingo, vice president of finance, Rivers Casino; Carlee Drummer, Oakton Community College; Sandra Hansen, manager, BMO Harris Bank; Agnes Czerech, vice president and branch manager, Village Bank & Trust; Bob Lewandowski, Lewandowski Family Foundation; and Steve Pokrak, controller, Millennium Bank.
The funds were allocated proportionally to the businesses that the investors felt had a well thought-out plan and a good chance at success. A total of $6,000 was invested in the businesses for student expenses to execute their ideas.
"The business community really blew me away with how they responded," Ryan said of their willingness to devote time and money to the program.
The investors selected one student business to advance to the next level May 8 in Frisco, Texas -- Joanna Skorupa, owner of Rapid Reek Ridding Rack, a company that makes racks to dry and refresh sports clothes and gear. The national competition will follow June 11 in Washington, D.C., with the developers of the top three businesses awarded scholarship funding in the amounts of $30,000, $25,000 and $20,000.
Ryan said last year's leading contender at the local level worked with his mentor to patent the idea, though he's put producing the product, which would be expensive, on hold until he is older. Some of last year's plans are being implemented, however, she said.
For example, a girl who designed a party planning business has produced 12 to 15 parties, and a boy has launched an online chemistry tutoring business off his success in the "You Be the Chemist" competition, even booking some out-of-state clients.