Over 300 high school students representing 17 schools gathered in the ballroom at the Tinkham Veale University Center at Case Western Reserve University on Tuesday, March 3, 2020 for the 3rd annual thinkBIG! Summit and Challenge. The students were joined by educators and guests from the Northeast Ohio entrepreneurship community for a full day of programs focused on youth entrepreneurship.
After a high energy opening from emcee Justin Lafazan, co-founder of Next Gen Summit, the day kicked off with a moving keynote presentation from Shane Feldman, Founder & CEO of Count Me In. His inspirational story about creating a social entrepreneurship venture while he was in high school and his focus on authentic leadership and community building kept the audience engaged and set the tone for the remainder of the day.
The keynote presentation was followed by an attendee favorite mini-maker hack-a-thon led by the staff at Upcycle Parts Shop. Each table of students was asked to work as a team to craft an innovative physical product made of recycled materials and to create a short pitch to sell it. From over 40 teams, four finalists were chosen to pitch their product to the 400 audience members. The team from Northern Career Institute won the competition with their idea for a safety kit pack. Each student from that team was awarded a $50 cash prize.
“At the 2020 thinkBIG! Summit, we were able to work together in an innovative way. The energy was great!” ~ Students from Beaumont HS and Northern Career Institute
The energy from the competition carried over into a panel discussion featuring several young entrepreneurs who came to Cleveland from various cities in the U.S. to participate in the program. The panelists provided background on their personal journeys as young entrepreneurs and offered specific steps and advice the students could use in their own journeys. The panel included Jacquelyn Aguilera, VFA Fellow, Product Engineer at Indago; Claire Coder, Founder & CEO, Aunt Flow; Tayo Rockson, UYD Management; Bryan Wish, Founder & CEO, BW Missions.
After lunch, the day concluded with the culmination of the thinkBIG! Challenge! The challenge is an online business plan competition consisting of two tracks – Small Business and Innovation. The competition was open to all high school students in Northeast Ohio, offering more than $9,000 in prizes. Out of 164 submissions, 21 semi-finalists advanced to the second round where they received executive coaching sessions to assist with their ideas. Four finalists advanced to present live on stage at the thinkBIG! Summit. Finalists included Cutting Edge Landscaping from Gilmour Academy, The Daily Dose from Magnificat High School, along with SkinDeep and Sleeping Pack from Hathaway Brown School.
The day ended on an extremely high energy note with the challenge winners SkinDeep and Cutting Edge Landscaping each winning $3,000 per team and Veale Innovation trophies. The day provided students opportunities to explore where journeys with an entrepreneurial mindset can lead them.
Did students’ interest in entrepreneurship increase after the thinkBIG! Summit?
Here’s what Northeast Ohio educators had to say:
“110% increase!!! We had kids on the bus ride home already working towards next year. Honestly, it is the BEST field trip opportunity we offer… It’s classy, well structured and meaningful.”
“The Hack-a-thon was great to engage the students and really spark their curiosity. Watching the four finalists was a great way to show our students that kids their age are making a difference!”
The Veale Youth Entrepreneurship Forum would like to thank the many volunteers, coaches, judges and the entire Northeast Ohio entrepreneurship community who supported the students and schools in various phases during the Challenge and Summit. Thank you also to Case Western Reserve University faculty and staff for hosting the program.
At Veale Startup Week, I learned there is a much larger variety of business opportunities than I thought.
Even those who are not specifically interested in entrepreneurship would pick up valuable communication skills at Veale Pitchfest, especially through the team building exercises.
Veale Startup Week taught me I can design, build, and learn new things and have fun, make new friends, and be myself while doing it!
Listening to the thinkBIG! 2020 Summit panel talk gave me more inspiration to start my business.
I always thought Ohio is a state that’s not in my future, but Veale Startup Week: The Business of 3D Printing showed me just how much the people of Cleveland care about students.
This program really exposed the dedication and hard work that the people of Northeast Ohio put into making their own independent businesses and giving back to the community.
I’ve learned to never give up, even if you fail.
From the introductions to the awards presentations, the Veale Pitchfest was great. The collaborations formed made the experience that much better.
The thinkBIG! 2020 hackathon was engaging and we got to be creative!
The Veale Venture Challenge and the entrepreneurship programming at my school provide tremendous opportunities for students like me.