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ESTEAM Pitch Contest Engages Appalachian Students with Entrepreneurial Experiences

EntreEd and six regional partners, Pierpont CTC (WV), Hazard CTC (KY), Big Sandy CTC (KY), Southeast KY CTC, Roane State CC (TN), and Western Region Education Service Alliance (NC), partnered to bring the ESTEAM Pitch Series to local middle- and high-school students in Appalachia. The pitch series provided students the opportunity to ignite their entrepreneurial mindset and engage in meaningful entrepreneurship experiences within their local community.

Each community partner hosted a competition for their service region. Through their outreach and support, 156 students participated in Round One of the competition, which included digital submission of a business model canvas and a 90-second elevator pitch. After internal review, a total of 42 teams moved on to compete in Round Two, a live pitch held virtually via Zoom Webinar. In total, 28 middle and high schools in 19 Appalachian Counties participated. A total of $13,000 in cash prizes were awarded to Appalachian students and $9,500 in classroom stipends were awarded to Appalachian educators.

EntreEd Regional Director, Laura McCall said, “It was my extreme honor to work with our ESTEAM partners highlighting the ingenuity and innovation of students throughout our ARC region. We entered this project with every hope that it would succeed. It was through the power of our grant partners, including The EdVenture Group, the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE), and the National Center for Research Development (NCRD), that we created an event that is sustainable and will continue the work of sharing entrepreneurship education across Appalachia.”

During the live pitch, many innovative ideas from students were presented in the format of a five-minute pitch presentation followed by a three minute Q&A with esteemed judges from across the country. Julie Sygiel, serial entrepreneur, Founder of Dear Kate and The Pockets Project, and Hazard (KY) ESTEAM Pitch Contest Judge, described her experience with the contest. “I thoroughly enjoyed judging and came away feeling inspired by all the students’ creative ideas. Building kids’ entrepreneurial skills at a young age will open up a world of opportunities for them. I feel confident you are changing the trajectory of many students’ lives, just like my life changed dramatically when I took an entrepreneurship class in college.”

“Early development of entrepreneurial skills and thinking is critical to improving life in small, rural communities. The pitches made by these student teams were incredible,” noted Ann Bass, North Carolina Department of Commerce and WRESA (NC) ESTEAM Pitch Contest Judge. “The practice of seeing a problem and having the courage to tackle it is vital to future success and has been so well done by each one of these students. Their thinking is top notch and the experience bodes well for their futures—as entrepreneurs or problem solvers in the community. I am also in awe of the resources that the teachers, coaches, and ESTEAM project staff provided to these student teams. There are not many opportunities for rural students to work with top notch STEM professionals and have access to the kinds of equipment and materials that represent big steps toward real production! ESTEAM has provided our students in this rural Appalachian region with an empowering experience. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for these creative young people!”

For many students, this was their first experience with entrepreneurship education. Roane State ESTEAM Pitch Contest Winners and owners of Made-N-Memories, Macey Miesel and Eden Reese (TN), said, “EntreEd has provided skills that will help us to thrive and become more productive leaders in the future. The process has developed our inner entrepreneurial skills to a level that allows us to be creative, innovative, and unique problem solvers. We have thoroughly enjoyed every step of learning involved with EntreEd.” Macey and Eden combined their names to come up with the “Made” in Made-N-Memories and use their business to preserve memories through special keepsakes that give memories a new life.

Pierpont ESTEAM Pitch Contest’s first place winner and owner of Love Dani Crochet, Danielle Verellen (WV), reflected, “Competing in the ESTEAM Pitch Series was nothing less than wonderful. The friendly sense of competition was a definite motivator and I pushed myself beyond my limits to make sure I was proud with my presentation. I had a very memorable time competing in this competition. I would highly recommend joining their competitions and I would most definitely compete again.” For her business, Danielle crochets and sells a variety of warm accessories including hats, ear warmers, and scarves.

Student first place winners included: Eden Reese and Macey Miesel of Jacksboro Middle School (TN) for Made-N-Memories, Danielle Verellen of Braxton County High School (WV) for Love Dani Crochet, Natalee Combs, Karigan Turner, and Sami Noble of Jackson Independent School (KY) for Teacher’s Petz, Miranda Brock and Audrey Goss of Harlan High School (KY) for EcoWear Clothing, Alivia Stumbo and Caleb Hager of Floyd Central High School (KY) for Southern Designs, Jonah Hardin, Trista Allison, Bria Haines, Elexus Graves, Trinity Mickens, Lyden Raxter, and Ciera Ward of Murphy Middle School (NC) for Smart Syringe.

Student second place winners included: Audeya Hundley, Caleb Haney, Michael Gray, and Sophia Whitaker of Clinton High School (TN) for Dragon Drive-In, Athena Clark, Ty Wellings, and Gabriel Hulse of Gilmer County High School (WV) for Boujee Brains, Wallace Caleb Bates of Breathitt County High School (KY) for Betterment with Bates, Micah Henson and Drew Botner of Jackson Independent School (KY) for Grocery Guys Delivery Service, Natalie Rice of Letcher Middle School (KY) for Funky Figurines, Andrew Brown and Brayden Pickle of Johnson Central High School (KY) for 460 Fern Farm, Jesse Dall and Christian Simmons of Smokey Mountain Elementary (NC) for Smokey Mountain Board Games Inc.

Student third place winners included: Maddie Payne and Zoie Phillips of Clarkrange High School (TN) for Wired Up Coffee Co., Gracie King, Josiah Fladie, Kaley Woodard, and Landen Rogers of Scott High School (TN) for Procrastonaut, Trevor Crites of Braxton County High School (WV) for Crites Co., Addison Lindon of Jackson Independent School (KY) for Sneaky Snacks, Katelyn Delk and Grace Rose of Middlesboro High School (KY) for The Perfect Tree, Lakyn Daniels and Owen LeMaster of Johnson Central High School (KY) for Life Skills 101, Emma Miller, Mary Bumgarner, Jocelyn Williamson, Vidhi Sabuwala of Smokey Mountain Elementary School (NC) for Photo Pop.

EntreEd recognizes the vital contribution educators made in supporting this effort. Educator mentors that were paired with each winning team also won classroom stipends to support the expansion of entrepreneurship efforts. Educator winners included: Christie Garrett (Clarkrange High School, TN), Michelle Watson (Scott High School, TN), Christa Frost (Clinton High School, TN), Erica Simpson (Jacksboro Middle School, TN), Sarah Dennison (Braxton County High School, WV), Lora Chapman (Gilmer County High School, WV), Sarah Trent (Jackson Independent School, KY), Victoria Howard (Jackson Independent School, KY), Tessa Roark (Harlan Middle School, KY), Chris Day (Harlan High School, KY), Luke Gilly (Middlesboro High School, KY), Jennifer Couch (Letcher Middle School, KY), Christopher Meeks (Letcher Middle School, KY), Jarred Gibson (Johnson Central High School, KY), Cortney Kidd (Floyd Central High School, KY), Tonia Forrister (Murphy Middle School, NC), Scott Miller (Smokey Mountain Elementary, NC).

EntreEd is grateful for everyone involved in the ESTEAM Pitch Contest Series that helped make it a success. Recordings of the live pitch events are available to watch on YouTube. Stay tuned for announcements about a regional pitch competition this fall, and subscribe to EntreEd’s newsletter for updates. The ESTEAM Pitch Series was created as an initiative of The National Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education’s (EntreEd) Fostering Self ESTEAM in Appalachia’s Emerging Workforce project, funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. The project helps middle and high school programs in a seven-state region infuse Entrepreneurship into academic classrooms with a focus on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) initiatives. To learn more about the project and the ESTEAM Pitch Series, contact Amber Ravenscroft, ESTEAM Project Director, at aravenscroft@edvgroup.org .

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