Metro, News

Local high schoolers pitch entrepreneurial ideas at Nelson Center

Six teams of students present ideas during Pitch Night organized by Young Entrepreneurs of Providence

By
Staff Writer
Friday, November 22, 2019

High schoolers involved in Young Entrepreneurs of Providence spent eight weeks developing business ideas. Their work culminated Thursday when they pitched their ideas to a faculty and student-led panel at the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship.

The 17 Providence high school students who participated in the Young Entrepreneurs of Providence program presented a variety of original products ­— from a health tracker for dogs to an audio note taker —  during Pitch Night at the Nelson Center of Entrepreneurship Thursday.

The program, created last year by Leah Lam ’21, Audrey Shapiro ’21 and Lucia Winton ’21, is an “eight-week long after-school innovation accelerator for local high school students,” funded through the Nelson Center and the University’s Entrepreneurship Program, according to the pitch night event description. The program encourages students to create and test their own entrepreneurial pursuits.

Pitch Night was the final “celebration of learning,” where the students presented various endeavors ranging from Tempus, a tea for menstrual cramps; Pup Path, a location and health tracker for dogs; Lecture Lynx, an audio note taker and Savist, an app that sends notifications when a person enters a store or restaurant he or she has a coupon for.

The pitches featured in-depth research including possible competitors, prices, production time-lines, interviews, prototypes and partnerships.

The participating students emphasized the skills they learned throughout the program, highlighting their newfound confidence in entrepreneurship.

“I wanted to expand my horizons and try new things,” said Blessing Oyedele, a senior at Blackstone Valley Prep Academy and a member of the Tempus team. “I thought it was going to be a struggle the whole time, but my eyes were really opened and I feel like I can be a part of this.”

Sarah Batista, a senior at the Village Green Virtual Charter School and member of the Lecture Lynx team, appreciated the support that Winton, Shapiro and Lam provided. Her team’s idea was even inspired by a book they received during the program. “It’s been an interesting ride. A lot more work than I initially expected, but it’s very achievable,” Batista told The Herald.

Tiahna Nagbe, a graduate of the Village Green Virtual Charter School and member of the Savist team, shared how her experience in the program further enforced her interest in being an entrepreneur. “Entrepreneurship has been something I’ve enjoyed. It’s made me do a lot of my own independent research. It’s more than I expected it to be,” she said. She participated in this program because of her positive experience with YEP in the spring.

Many of the students formed close relationships with each other throughout the program. “You learn how to work with a team of people you don’t know. I love these people. You really build a network in eight weeks,” said Lydia Watkins, a senior at Hope High School and a member of the Savist team.

The students presented in front of a panel including Professor and Executive Director of the Nelson Center Daniel Warshay ’87, Adjunct Professor Hamzah Ansari, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at the University’s Office of the Provost Karen Sibley and Van Wickle Ventures member Asif Khan ’21.

The young entrepreneurs have met every Thursday for two hours in the Nelson Center. The first hour is dedicated to listening to a guest speaker on topics ranging from bottom-up research to ideation, and the second is spent in workshops where the students’ business ideas are produced.

“The purpose of it is for students to learn more about entrepreneurship … to not just have students be open to the idea of entrepreneurship, but to also bring entrepreneurship to new voices,” Shapiro told The Herald.

YEP’s three founders all have previous entrepreneurial experience, participating in  programs such as Innovation Dojo and the Women’s Entrepreneurship Incubator. This interest in business was combined with a passion for community outreach through involvement in tutoring with groups like  Brown University Afterschool Mentoring.

The founders noticed a need for entrepreneurship thinking to be expanded beyond College Hill, and felt that forming YEP would fill this gap.

“We identified a problem in the community, so we formed a one-day workshop in the spring, and then we decided to create this program in the fall,” Lam said.

The program encouraged students to come up with a business idea, prototype it digitally or by hand and then present it at the Pitch Night.

The three founders emphasized the passion of the students and how they mostly served as mentors throughout the program. Still, they hosted office hours and answered questions whenever possible.

“We’re just there to give them feedback and advice,” Winton told The Herald. “If we don’t know the answers, we can try and guide them.”

Siblings, parents and friends — of both the founders and participants — came for Pitch Night. Audience member Olivia Nippe-Jenkins, a junior at East Greenwich High School, attended to support her sister Kathryn, who worked on Pup Path. “They were so comprehensive. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it went so far beyond what I thought,” she said.

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