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AEA Ignites Appalachia’s Next Generation of Entrepreneurs
Posted on July 29, 2022 in Uncategorized

EntreEd partnered with Appalachian State University and STEM West to facilitate the Appalachian Regional Commission's (ARC) Appalachian Entrepreneurship Academy (AEA) on App State’s campus in Boone, NC July 9-22, 2022. Nineteen high school students from across the Appalachian region were selected via a competitive application process. They engaged in two weeks of experiential activities that sparked entrepreneurial thinking and cultivated essential skills. EntreEd Regional Director and AEA Facilitator, Jenny Totten said, “Generation Z is going to rescue us all from ourselves. It has now shown itself to be true across the region. They are not afraid to take calculated risks, they speak up, and they want to be a part of building better for their hometowns. They support one another in learning and trying new things."

AEA students were passionate about finding solutions to problems in their Appalachian communities. They used their newfound entrepreneurial knowledge to create businesses that filled needs in their hometowns, ranging from youth development organizations to retail locations. Students worked in teams to develop business plans and practice their pitches. On the final day of programming, students pitched their ideas to an audience of entrepreneurs at App State’s Grandview Ballroom at Kidd Brewer Stadium as the culminating event.

Onward Collaborative took home first place with their non-profit for community-based solutions for at-risk youth. The team included Ansley Barker (TN), Ayla Solomon (NC), Ella Smith (NC), Saige Crainer (NY), and Sebastian Safran (PA).

Holler Youth Development Corporation earned second place with their non-profit for engaging youth for community development and revitalization. The team was comprised of Carolina Johnson (KY), Jack Pollard (KY), and Kedric LeMaster (NC).

Smarket earned third place for their virtual reality dressing room software solution for online shopping. The team featured Genesis Becerra (NC), Keyla Zhao (SC), Ragad Alsubhi (SC), and Sarah Smith (GA).

The AEA Curriculum & Pitch Planning Team were quite impressed by the students and their ideas. “The participants in AEA were incredible in their professionalism and in how they bonded nearly immediately. Their commitment to the Appalachian region is evident in all they do, and their energy is infectious. We expect great things from these future entrepreneurs and leaders!” said, Tracie McLemore Salinas, Director, Mathematics and Science Education Center, App State.


Following the pitch competition, a graduation ceremony was held. After the event, it was evident that many strong bonds had formed between the AEA cohort. “This experience has meant the world to me. I have met so many people that I now consider my best friends.” said, AEA graduate, Carolina Johnson. Many students hugged and some became emotional as they reflected on their experiences and said their goodbyes to each other. “I absolutely would do this again, no questions asked. The opportunities you get for being here, the information you learn, the people you meet, there’s nothing better.” stated, AEA graduate, Lucas Cox. AEA graduate, Ansley Barker said, “This is something that you only get once in a lifetime.”

AEA participants exhibited steadfast determination and hard work throughout the two weeks of camp to become better entrepreneurial leaders and innovative thinkers. “AEA is a great opportunity to expose our youth to the entrepreneurial mindset and see it in action through local businesses, attractions, and speakers. Their energy and enthusiasm was contagious and inspiring! I cannot wait to see how these young people will apply their new skills and experiences to enhance their own communities.” said, Carol Moore, CEO & President of STEM West. The next generation of entrepreneurs is going to make a big impact, and the future of Appalachia is in great hands!

For more information about AEA, visit: https://www.arc.gov/appalachian-entrepreneurship-academy/


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