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School Hosts Young Entrepreneurs for BizPlan Challenge and Earns Educational Partner of the Year Award

May 18, 2011
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The School of Business welcomed some of South Florida’s top young entrepreneurs May 18 for the 4th Annual Youth Business Plan Challenge, organized by NFTE South Florida.

NFTE (Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship) is a national organization dedicated to inspiring young people from low-income communities to continue their education and plan for successful futures.

The five students participating in the BizPlan Challenge were selected through rigorous competitions at 24 South Florida schools. They had to present business plans for new ventures before a panel of judges.

During the presentations, judges were encouraged to evaluate the plans as if they had venture capital funds to invest in students’ businesses. Judging criteria included marketing mix, economics, long-term growth plans, philanthropy, and general feasibility of the business. Among the judges was Ken Colwell, the School’s director of entrepreneurship programs.

“This is the second year that the School has hosted the semi-finals, and we’ve had a great working relationship,” said Colwell. “Our Entrepreneurship Club has hosted events to help the NFTE students, mentoring and helping them develop their business plans. The dean and our board of advisors have been very supportive of embracing NFTE’s mission.”

Alice Horn, NFTE’s South Florida executive director, has overseen the organization’s rapidly growing impact in the region.

“In the five years we’ve been active in South Florida we’ve grown ten-fold, from 350 students a year to more than 3,000,” said Horn. “Considering the small business climate in South Florida, it’s not surprising that there is such a strong reception for entrepreneurship education.”

“We firmly believe that education is the foundation of strong communities, and as such, we’re committed to creating a positive impact [through] our investments,” Said Maria Alonso (BSIE ’86), Miami-Dade market manager for Bank of America, which sponsored the competition.  “I can’t think of a better investment than our youth.”

Throughout the evening, Colwell highlighted the value of having a well-defined target market.

“Identifying a target market is absolutely critical,” he explained. “The thing about entrepreneurs is that when they’re starting their businesses, they have limited resources, so it’s important for them to focus.”

Target markets proved essential for competition winners Derek Ruffner and Mason Bailie (Stranahan Senior High, Grade 12), who won 1st Place and a $1,500 prize for their website development system Haikura. Soled Out, a shoe refurbishing company founded by Roberto Leto and Matthew Lopez (Coral Gables Senior High, Grade 12), took 2nd Place and a $1,000 prize. The two teams will visit Orlando in June to be honored at the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award Ceremony before travelling to New York for the National Business Plan Competition in October, where they will compete against 25 other finalists for a $10,000 grand prize.

In addition to the student awards, the School of Business was recognized as NFTE's South Florida’s Educational Partner of the Year. Colwell says the School will remain involved in NFTE’s outreach to young entrepreneurs in South Florida.

“NFTE is working alongside disadvantaged high schools with very scarce resources. Like all good entrepreneurs, they ‘boot-strap’ it as well as they can. Any support we can offer them is very well-deserved.”

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