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Young Entrepreneurs vie for funding to make dreams a reality

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Young Entrepreneurs vie for funding to make dreams a reality
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Students at the Young Entrepreneur Academy pitched their business plans to a panel of investors Tuesday.They were vying for a chance to win funding and a college scholarship. Our Alana LaFlore shows us the lessons learned along the way.

UTICA, N.Y. -- The Young Entrepreneur Academy's mission is to teach students the steps of starting real businesses with social and economic value.

They were born with the entrepreneurial spirit.

"When I was about six years old, it was the middle of the winter and my mother told me I couldn't do a lemonade stand because it was too cold," said Brandon Johnston. "I did a loophole there and I sold hot coffee."

Another student created a business called Spandex Frenzy, it's a line of decorative workout gear.

"In my school there's not a lot of people that workout because they don't like the way they look," said Curteria McCants. "So I just decided to make shorts so every girl can feel cute and fashionable and confident while working out."

The Young Entrepreneur Academy meets once a week. But students put in long hours of hard work outside those meetings. Participants conducted market research, figured out finances and wrote business plans.

The program is part of the bigger picture - to continue the Mohawk Valley's revitalization.

"It gives them some incentive to stay in our area and learn that they can run their own businesses," said Carolyn DeJohn, Mohawk Valley Community College's Community Education Coordinator. "It also promotes local businesses, there are so many community partners involved in this program."

The proposals ranged anywhere from a mobile app to a dessert company.
And despite the diversity of ideas, the students all learned one lesson in common.

"Starting a business isn't as easy as it seems, there are challenges to it," said Johnston.

"Be patient," said McCants. "Not everything comes as quickly as it seems."

Students say all the hard work makes them feel better prepared for the future.

"This program is really important to me just because if I hadn't taken it, I really, this dream of having a business, it wouldn't have happened," said Courtney Divine.

Investors will split $4,000 between different business plans, allowing students to launch their companies. MVCC will hold a trade show in June where the community can buy products the students created.

The panel of investors decided the best business proposal was for a product called the "I-card." It's a small plastic card that can be used as almost anything - from a gift card, to a hotel key, to an earbud holder. The winner, Benjamin Vaccaraco from Oneida High School, travels to Rochester next month to compete in a national Young Entrepreneur Academy competition.

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