March 9, 2014

Sunday, March 9, 2014
By Tony Lascari tlascari@mdn.net

Young entrepreneurs are ready to launch businesses they developed during the Young Entrepreneur Academy (YEA) offered by the Midland Area Chamber of Commerce.

A dozen area youths will pitch their business to an investor panel on March 20, but attendees of Friday’s Wake Up! Midland, at the Great Hall, got a sneak peek at three businesses and the young entrepreneurs behind them.

Felipe Haddad, a senior at H.H. Dow High, is president of BampIt!

The company will manage social media content, with each contract individualized to meet the customer’s needs.

“Our target market is small businesses and nonprofits,” Haddad said.

Social media advertising is a fast growing sector and Haddad said he has been preparing to pitch his business plan to the investor panel, with help from YEA mentors and real world input from businesses.

“I think it’s definitely viable to ask for those funds,” he said.

Two other Dow High seniors have teamed up to launch the sweet treats company called Brasil in a Box (Brasil is Portuguese for Brazil).

Stephanie Dehn, chief financial officer, and Helena Donoso, CEO, plan to open a website where people can order candies for birthday parties, small business parties and other events, Dehn said.

“We bring ingredients from Brazil and make our own sweets here,” Donoso said. “...It’s something different that we don’t really have here.”

Donoso said the YEA program prepared all of the participants for their pitches.

“YEA has really prepared us with all of our mentors, all of our guest speakers,” she said. “It’s really well organized.”

Dehn said the best experience in YEA was learning how to present herself professionally in business environments.

“Those first seven seconds are what are going to make or break your deal,” she said.

The program showed her what she didn’t know about business, and how to handle that humbly and with maturity, she said.

Donoso liked visiting companies and learning from entrepreneurs who know the struggles the students now face in launching their businesses. The lesson: It’s hard, but worth it, Donoso said.

“I learned a lot from them, so I’m really, really glad I joined YEA,” she said.

Matt Laming, an 8th grader at Jefferson Middle School, told the Chamber crowd about his business, Northern Woodland Spice. The business offers an alternative to the typical barbecue spice flavor by offering a lemon option.

Laming said YEA has prepared him for the upcoming pitch. He’s meet other young entrepreneurs, made connections and heard from businesses leaders who have been successful.

“I really don’t have anything to worry about,” he said.

When asked for a definition of the American dream, Laming’s answer was short.

“Being able to start a business at any age,” he said.

Haddad responded that being able to follow your dreams in general is the American Dream. He said he has dreamt of opening a business since he was young, and now sees it as a way to make a positive difference in his community.

Dehn said the ability to give back is important.

“To be able to make a difference in our community is big,” she said.

The four YEA participants all saw their projects change during the program.

Laming said he initially wanted to open a restaurant or offer a wide product line of spices and sauces, but scaled that back to start out.

Haddad said his first idea was to create a blog, but that evolved into the social media business. He’s working with two others, so the three are able to bounce ideas off each other.

Donoso said she initially wanted to get into app development and had to let go of her original idea.

“It took me a while to get OK with it, but I think it was the best idea I did,” she said.

Dehn said Brasil in a Box had another partner who dropped out of the YEA program, which caused an adjustment in the business. A lot happened that they didn’t expect, but they’ve worked out their business plans and are ready for their pitch.