What Five Philadelphia High School Students Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

Posted by | June 9, 2011

(L to R) Sylvia Watts McKinney, Executive Director, NFTE Philadelphia; Bianca Nieves, senior, Esperanza Academy; Doug Alexander, President, ICG and Co-Chair, NFTE Philadelphia Advisory Board. (Photo Credit: Daniel Burke Photography)

This past Tuesday, we hosted the final round of presentations in the Philadelphia Chapter of NFTE’s annual business plan competition. Five students competed, and each did a tremendous job articulating their plans for business development and growth.

Of these students, I’m proud to announce that Bianca Nieves, a senior at Esperanza Academy, was crowned the first place winner. Bianca runs a business based on her grandmother’s Hispanic spice recipe, which she branded Grandma’s Secret.

Second place was awarded to Viktor Vabishevich, a junior at George Washington High School, who built a landscaping business called Vito Lawns. Both Bianca and Viktor will be traveling to New York City this fall to compete in the National Business Plan Competition.

The event also included presentations from keynote speaker, Priscilla Brown, Senior Vice President, Head of Marketing and Strategy at Sun Life Financial U.S., and Doug Alexander, President at ICG and co-Chair of NFTE Philadelphia’s Advisory Board. Both speakers offered lessons on perseverance and focus from their own business experiences.

Later, as I was watching our students present, I began to think about what advice I would give to entrepreneurs looking to grow their businesses.

Dedication and Tenacity. This year, we structured the competitions a bit differently, splitting the semi-final and final rounds into two different events. This meant that the five students who made it to the finals had an additional ten days to prepare. And they took advantage of it! The contestants used the extra time to work with business leaders from The Wharton School to hone their business plans and presentation skills. The extra preparation paid off―it certainly was evident at the finals. My take-away: All entrepreneurs must adhere to the same commitment and remain dedicated to continuously improve their business.

Maintain Your Focus. The students who participated in this competition built businesses around something they were passionate about. Never lose that focus. My take-away: Ingenuity and progress are never bad for business, but remember where you started and why your concept was innovative from the start.

Learn from Others. After announcing the winners, our 13 judges—all leaders within the Philadelphia business community—offered to coach the first- and second-place winners, to provide suggestions and advice on how to improve their business plan for the next round of the competition.  My take-away: When others offer you their expertise and advice from their own experiences, take the time to listen. Make sure that you take advantage of all opportunities presented to you—you never know which one could benefit you in ways you never expected. And when the time comes, take what you have learned and share it with others. The only way for tomorrow’s future leaders to gain that experience is to learn from today’s leaders.

Strive to be Better, Always. As we left the event Tuesday evening, I reminded Bianca and Viktor that there was another round of competition that they have to prepare for. They might have won on Tuesday, but they’re starting from scratch tomorrow. My take-away: Always strive to be better than you were the day before—that’s the only way that you can continue to improve your successes. And never forget, the sky is the limit!

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