February 27th was a monumental day for youth entrepreneurship in Cleveland, as more than 450 high school students, teachers and nationally known teen business “phenoms” converged on the CWRU campus for a motivational, inspirational day called the thinkBIG! Summit.
Hosted by the Veale Youth Entrepreneurship Forum, and filled with motivational speakers including Jeff Hoffman (Priceline.com), Gerard Adams (Elite Daily.com) and Justin Lafazan (NextGen Summits), the event gave a packed-to-capacity crowd the opportunity to hear, first hand, the ups, downs and how-to’s of formulating and running a business, along with generous doses of uplifting advice for those who have not yet gotten started.
Most notable about the summit was its premise: using young leaders to create and mentor new young leaders. The speaker line-up was impressive. In addition to keynote speaker Gerard Adams, who, at age 22, sold his online publication Elite Daily for $48 million, the panel speakers included Ben Stern, age 18 (Shark Tank winner and Mark Cuban protégé for his eco-friendly shampoo bottles); Brennan Agranoff, age 17 (founder of Hoopswagg, an athletic sock company with more than $1 million in sales); Haile Thomas, a 17-yr old health activist and the nation’s youngest nutrition coach, and Deep Patel (18), founder of an online marketing agency that works with VC-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. Emcee for the entire event was Justin Lafazan, who, at age 21, is the co-founder of NextGen Summits, a conference and on-line community for millennial entrepreneurs, with reach to more than 5,000 direct founders.
The thinkBIG! Summit was the culmination of an event that began as a business plan competition open to all high schools in the northeast Ohio area. Last fall, schools were encouraged to help their students create and submit business plans for the Veale Innovation Challenge. In total, 184 plans were submitted, featuring 295 students from 18 different high schools. Over three months and two rounds of judging, these 184 entries were whittled down to the Final 4, who competed live at the thinkBIG! Summit. The winning team, featuring Ray Benson, Kaitlyn Beebe, Tyler Thomas and Walter Miller from CVCA, received a check for $5000, as well as 6-month membership to Fownders Online, an innovative online mentoring and coaching platform for budding entrepreneurs. The runner-up teams included Nick Geier from GlenOak; Olivia Wenzel from Laurel School; and Jayla Gulley, Angie Gunawardana, Desia Hamm and Janiyah Spears, also from CVCA. Each runner-up team received a check for $1000 and a 6-month membership to Fownders Online. In addition, as the winning school, CVCA received one seat at the Wildfire Education Workshop for Entrepreneurial Studies (valued at $1100) as well as the coveted Veale Innovation Cup.