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Emerging Lane | Learning to be an Entrepreneur

The Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs gives students an immersive experience in the world of business

By The Lane Report

In 2013, Kentucky formed the Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs, a program designed to bring together high school students from across the state to give them the entrepreneurial experience of a lifetime and equip them with the tools to unleash their innate entrepreneurial spirit. Over the course of the three-week program, student teams develop a business model, design a prototype and then pitch their startup to a panel of judges. GSE teaches the opportunities, benefits and pitfalls of taking a business concept from the idea phase to pitching it to potential investors.

Though 2020 presented a huge set of challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in true entrepreneurial spirit, GSE carried on in spite of it all.

“We’re living through highly unusual times but like any strong, resilient organization, we see this as both an opportunity and a welcomed challenge,” said GSE Board Chair Koleman Karleski on May 6, when GSE announced its summer plans. “If there were ever a program designed to adapt to change through innovation, it is the Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs.”

This year, the GSE program shifted to a hybrid format that included both in-person and virtual sessions. The 72 students selected for the 2020 program (chosen from more than 300 applicants) 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.

The 2020 program culminated on Aug. 1, with the business-pitch competition held virtually using Hopin, a web-based technology platform. This year’s panelists included Steven Plappert and Logan Burchett, cofounders of Forecastr; Laura Halligan, new ventures manager for the University of Kentucky’s Office of Commercialization; Jackie Wilmot, CEO and cofounder of XLerateHealth; and Brit Fitzpatrick, director of entrepreneurship and innovation at Blue North. 

“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 GSE Executive Director Natasha Sams.

“Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs was an experience of a lifetime,” said GSE participant Maddison French, of Wolfe County High School. “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 instills quality skills and values in individuals.”

The Winning Pitch

The finalists for GSE’s 2020 Demo Day Competition were:

First Place: Paige Neuhaus, Notre Dame Academy (Kenton Co.); Daniel Roenker, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School (Fayette Co.); Sai Jeyaprakash, duPont Manual High School (Jefferson Co.); and Aidan Robertson, Atherton High School (Jefferson Co.) won $1,000 for their Pathfinder app.  The app is 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: Ashley Wilbers and Brel Alsip, both of the Ignite Institute (Kenton Co.); Evelyn Overstreet, duPont Manual High School (Jefferson Co.); and Colson Collett, Walton–Verona High School (Boone Co.) won $750 for developing the Personalized Responsive Emergency Safety System (P.R.E.S.S.), a customizable bracelet designed for children with allergies. The bracelet allows them to contact family members and emergency services with the press of a button in the event of an emergency or allergic reaction.

 Third Place: Alex Billings, J. Graham Brown School (Jefferson Co.); Quinton Wehby, Highlands High School (Campbell Co.); Mary Caroline Noneman, Paducah Tilghman High School (McCracken Co.); and Caroline Henry, Paul G. Blazer High School (Boyd Co.) won $500 for Zense, an alarm clock that wakes users up slowly, eliminating harsh alarm sounds and replacing them with aromatherapy and noises that steadily increase in volume.