“We are proud of our inaugural YEA! class; it is evident that this program has already had an impact on these 13 students. Our Chamber strives to create a spirit of entrepreneurship in our community and YEA! is a great start.” — Betty Morgan, vice president for Business Development at the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce.
The Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!), a nine-month program hosted by the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce, guided 13 middle and high school students through the process of becoming business owners.
After months of training, which included interaction with business professionals and field trips to local companies, the students received guidance in writing a business plan, website development, and financial projections.
Once the business plans were completed, the students took to the stage and pitched their ideas to an investor panel, in hopes of obtaining funding to launch their business. A total of $6,000 was distributed among the 13 businesses based on the funding request and the decision of the investor panel.
“We are proud of our inaugural YEA! class; it is evident that this program has already had an impact on these 13 students,” said Betty Morgan, vice president for Business Development at the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce. “Our Chamber strives to create a spirit of entrepreneurship in our community and YEA! is a great start.”
Cedric Montgomery, CEO of BEE the Change Farms, received the top spot and the opportunity to advance to the YEA! National Saunders Scholars Competition, in Rochester, New York. Truman Crow, CEO of The Tru-Foods Company, was named the runner-up.
3 companies represented a diverse mix of businesses including agriculture, food preparation, fashion design, and game development.
Montgomery said his favorite part of the program was the opportunity to work with local business leaders.
“I have learned the importance of marketing and how to give an elevator pitch,” Montgomery said. “The most challenging part of my involvement in this program has been managing my time.”
As a dual-enrolled student taking classes at Lowndes High School and Georgia Military College, Montgomery is also active in the National FFA Organization.
Montgomery said BEE the Change Farms represents more than a company that produces honey; it also has a social mission.
In addition to producing local raw and unfiltered natural honey, BEE the Change Farms will have a goal to protect the extinction of bees by donating a portion of the company’s profits to bee research efforts.
Riley McDowell, CEO of Underground Farms, said the program not only allowed him the chance to develop his business plan but meet other students who share his dream of starting a business.
“My favorite part of the program would have to be the connections that we made with leaders and mentors in the business community,” McDowell said, “and with other students who have the same interests and goals; and the knowledge we gain from working with those people.”
McDowell explains that his business concept is focused on growing worms, compost, and castings.
“With more people caring about sourcing local or growing their own food, soil health is key. My business unlocks the most important resource for that naturally and locally,” he said. “Whether a person needs the black gold of compost or the worms themselves for the garden or some good old fashion fishing, I’ll be there to meet their needs.”
McDowell said he would recommend the YEA! program to others. “Everyone has thoughts about easier ways things could be done or new products that would change the world, so why not take advantage of those thoughts?”
The 2018-2019 YEA! class will begin in August. Applications will be accepted from middle and high school students. For more information, email YEA! coordinator DeWayne Johnson at [email protected]
2017-2018 YEA! Class
Dominique Bennett, Irelynn Bono, Autumn Brooks, Alexis Carmichael, Truman Crow, Jalen Denton, Cherelle Hutcherson, Riley McDowell, Cedric Montgomery, Caden Powell, Hunter Shelton, Mykel Sherman, and Carlos Torres.