FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs (GSE) hit the high point of its three-week program Aug. 1 with its annual professional business-pitch competition, where 18 teams of high school students presented their startup ideas virtually to an audience of more than 550 people and a prestigious panel of entrepreneur judges. Three teams came out on top, winning cash prizes to continue their innovative ventures.
During the highly competitive summer program, 18 teams of four students each developed business models, designed prototypes and learned from business entrepreneurs. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the competition was held virtually using Hopin, a web-based technology platform.
“I am so proud of all of our 72 young entrepreneurs and what they have accomplished in just three short weeks,” said Gov. Andy Beshear. “I’m impressed with their ideas and with their tenacity to keep going even in the face of uncertainty this year. I am confident that our young entrepreneurs will help us meet future challenges.”
“GSE 2020 really mirrored the fast-paced, real-world challenges of startups as its leaders and students adjusted the program so they could continue this exciting learning experience during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman.
The 2020 Demo Day finalists were as follows:
First Place – Pathfinder with team members Paige Neuhaus, Notre Dame Academy in Kenton County; Daniel Roenker, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Fayette County; Sai Jeyaprakash, duPont Manual High School in Jefferson County; and Aidan Robertson, Atherton High School in Jefferson County, won $1,000 with an app similar to Waze but specific to colleges and universities, allowing users to request companions, quickly call for help and report happenings across campus.
Second Place – (Personalized Responsive Emergency Safety System) P.R.E.S.S. with team members Ashley Wilbers and Brel Alsip, both of the Ignite Institute in Kenton County; Evelyn Overstreet, duPont Manual High School in Jefferson County; and Colson Collett, Walton – Verona High School in Boone County, won $750 with a customizable bracelet design that is tailored to children with allergies, allowing them to contact family members and emergency services quickly, with the press of a button, in the event of an emergency or allergic reaction.
Third Place – Zense with team members Alex Billings, J. Graham Brown School in Jefferson County; Quinton Wehby, Highlands High School in Campbell County; Mary Caroline Noneman, Paducah Tilghman High School in McCracken County; and Caroline Henry, Paul G. Blazer High School in Boyd County, won $500 for an alarm clock that wakes users up slowly, eliminating harsh alarm sounds and replacing them with aromatherapy and noises that steadily increase in volume.
Panelists included Steven Plappert, co-founder of Forecastr; Logan Burchett, co-founder of Forecastr; Laura Halligan, new ventures manager for the University of Kentucky’s Office of Commercialization; Jackie Wilmot, CEO and co-founder of XLerateHealth; and Brit Fitzpatrick, director of entrepreneurship and innovation at Blue North.
While building a working team during GSE, teens virtually toured 15 startups and businesses, networked with more than 20 seasoned entrepreneurs and spent over 150 hours developing their business models. Businesses from across the commonwealth – including Carabello Coffee, Rubicon Global, Cork Communications, Wicked Sheets and the Explore Kentucky Initiative – shared the challenges and successes of their businesses in candid conversations with participants while allowing unparalleled access to the inner workings of day-to-day business.
“While COVID-19 brought new challenges to how we delivered our 2020 program, our students this year learned first-hand about the importance of being nimble and the ability to pivot,” said Natasha Sams, GSE’s executive director. “We are so appreciative of our statewide partners who helped us develop a really unique experience and it has been amazing to watch the growth of the students through this challenging program as they learned to take risks and address failure as a positive lesson on the path to success.”
More than 300 high school students applied to participate in the GSE program that ran from July 12 to Aug. 1, 2020, using a hybrid approach with both in-person and virtual sessions, but only 72 students were selected from this highly competitive application process. During the rigorous three-week program, the young entrepreneurs learned firsthand about the opportunities, benefits and challenges of launching a business concept from the idea phase to pitching it to potential investors.
“For me, GSE has been the highlight of my summer. I don’t think I’ve ever anticipated something so much and I’m so happy that in spite of all the craziness that’s going on in the world right now, this amazing program was able to persevere and find a way through all the mess. It’s been one of the best times of my life, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity. I am certain that the lessons I’ve learned and the experiences I’ve had will stick me with for the rest of my life,” said GSE participant Gavin Borchers, a student at Saint Henry District High School in Erlanger.
Maddison French of Wolfe Country High School added: “Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs was an experience of a lifetime. It was filled with many challenges, opportunities, laughs and lots of learning. The three-week journey taught me to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, that ‘with great challenges come great opportunities’ and with hard work all things are possible. This program empowers the leaders and innovators of tomorrow, builds a community that helps each other succeed and installs quality skills and values in individuals.”
GSE provides more than $2.7 million in scholarship funding opportunities to high school students each year to attend colleges and universities in Kentucky. Through partnerships with entities such as the Kentucky Workforce and Education Development Cabinet, the Cabinet for Economic Development, and numerous public and private supporters including Toyota (TMMK), the Marksbury Family Foundation and the Parker Family Fund, GSE is completely free for selected entrepreneurs.
Since 2013, more than 400 student entrepreneurs have gained vital entrepreneurial skills through the program to use as they enter the workplace or continue into higher education. GSE alumni have launched 10 companies, filed multiple patents and hundreds of young, talented individuals are engaging in Kentucky’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Applications for the 2021 Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs will open in November. Parents, educators, entrepreneurs and teens who believe grit, a growth mindset and creativity in problem solving tell as much about a young person as good grades and test scores, can learn more about the Governor’s School of Entrepreneurs at www.KentuckyGSE.com.