Young Entrepreneurs, Big Ideas

A small group of area middle and high school students have been meeting weekly with local business leaders, teachers, and mentors to develop plans and prototypes for their real world business ideas as part of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!).  YEA! Is sponsored by the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce with support from CareerSource of Okaloosa and Walton Counties, the University of West Florida, and with initial funding from Gulf Power. 

The students’ hard work was on display early in April as they pitched their final ideas and products in a “Shark Tank” like experience to an Investor Panel of business leaders who considered investing in their businesses.  The panel included Susan Shea of White-Wilson Medical Center; Mitch Mongell of Fort Walton Beach Medical Center; D. C. Mickle of PMIPEO; Chris Sehman of Helen Back; and Simona Faroni of GS Gelato. 

The students had been refining their products and services, along with their business plans, over the past six months, and were excited to be reaching this pivotal moment in the program. 

After the very polished presentations, the Investor Panel deliberated and chose what they perceived to be the three strongest business plans: 

  1. Ryan Kochan, FWBHS - Kochan Cases
  2. Alexis Curtis, CHS, Catherine Fraser, CHS, and Tiffany Larson, FWBHS - Innovation of Education
  3. Carolyn Alaniz, LJPS, and Brooke Graves, LJPS - Just Because Jewelry

The top three awardees were funded the full amount they requested in their business plan, and each of the total ten companies received some level of investment. 

Ryan Kochan is now eligible to compete at the State YEA competition which will be held in Boca Raton, Florida, in mid-May. 

YEA! is a groundbreaking program that takes students between the ages of 11 and 18 through the process of launching a real business or social movement over the course of an academic year.  By the end of the class, students own and operate fully-formed and functioning businesses, which may be carried out after their graduation from the program.  YEA! aims at teaching students at an early age how to make a job, not just take a job.  YEA! was developed at the University of Rochester with support from The Kauffman Foundation.

Photo of Ryan Kochan with his Kochan Case.