Youth Entrepreneurs Showcased at YES Competition

Students in grades 5-8 from across Arkansas converged on Park Plaza Mall in Little Rock Friday to engage in a little retail activity.

Only these kids weren't buying; they were selling. The students, representing 26 teams from 13 schools, were finalists in the Youth Entrepreneur Showcase (YES) business-plan competition sponsored by the Arkansas Economic Acceleration Foundatiuon, an affiliate of the Arkansas Capital Corporation Group.

The competition entails students, working as individuals or in small groups and led by teacher advisers, developing and marketing their own business concept. Friday's Expo Day saw teams constructing their own retail booths, spread over the entire third level of the mall, and marketing and selling their products.

The 26 teams were selected by judges from an entry pool of 220 teams that submitted business plans by a Nov. 1 deadline. The contest usually names 25 finalists but a tie necessitated 26 for 2014. The finalists were announced in December. Winners in each of four categories received $100 and a medal, while teacher advisers won $500 and a trophy.

The categories were best marketing, best retail booth, most innovative and best business plan. Second-, third- and fourth-place finishers in each of four categories also received prizes.

Friday's winners were:

  • Wonderful Wire Works of Hazen in the best business plan and best marketing categories. Team members are Gracie Brown, Jaida Hollingshead, Kade Perry, Blayne Toll, Jacob Weems. Lisa martin is the adviser. 
  • Socket Pocket from Washington Middle School in El Dorado in the most innovative category. Team members are Jessica Carroll, Westdan Owens, Gabe Reed, Emma Thomas. Katie King is the adviser. 
  • BLT (homemade bows) from Omaha in the best retail booth category. Team members are Lauren Moore and Tori Plunk, and Pam Hopkins is their adviser.

Wonderful Wire Works hatched an idea to help kids who are prone to misplacing their retainer case. The concept is to make necklaces made from recycled T-shirts that can be worn around the neck and are attached to a specially designed case, keeping retainers -- or anything that would fit into the case -- safe and handy.

The team even secured the endorsement of local dentists and orthodontists. Little Rock orthodontist Andy Vondran happened by the team's booth on Friday, bought 15 necklace/case combos for $7 each, and invited the team members to come by his office to set up a booth. 

Fifteen judges included local business and educational leaders. 

"We heard good things from the judges," said AEAF director Marie Bruno. "Many spoke of the creativity and presentation, and how well organized the teams were."

Other concepts showcased on Friday included homemade, organic dog and cat treats from Paw-tastic Treats of Holt Middle School in Fayetteville; the On-the-Go Snack Pillow from Central Magnet Elementary in Batesville; and Solar Soda from Chase Blum of Pinkston Middle School in Mountain Home. Blum, a sixth grader, created a solar panel using recycled products such as aluminum cans.

Click here for a full list of the finalists. AEAF's YES 2.0 for high school students (grades 9-12) is held online. Intents to compete are due Jan. 31.

The Donald W. Reynolds Governor's Cup business-plan competition for college students also is sponsored by AEAF. Its awards presentation will be held April 9 in Little Rock, and intents to compete are due Jan. 31.

AEAF created the YES competition in 2005 and more than 1,700 students in grades 5-8 have competed with more than $21,000 in cash prizes awarded.