Pulaski County youth shares big ideas with investors

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YEA! program winner and Somerset High School junior K'LeAnn Morgan (center) is flanked by YEA! program co-managers Farrah Dobbs and Delores Dalton. Morgan received a college scholarship and start-up capital for her 3-D printing photography business, 3DA.

Sometimes the combination of youthful inspiration and the wisdom of an older mentor can make magic.

"K'LeAnn (Morgan) had a sports photography business. Emily (Conley) took it up a level and said, 'Why not do 3D printing?'" said Farrah Dobbs, co-program manager of the Young Entrepreneurial Academy (YEA!) along with Delores Dalton.

"That's why K'LeAnn won."

Morgan emerged victorious from a rigorous YEA! program over the course of 21 weeks, and now has a chance to make her business plan a reality -- as well as put it up against some of the other brightest ideas in the nation from people her age.

This past week, participants in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) took the stage at Somerset Community College to present their business plans before a panel of local business leaders and a public audience in a presentation similar to the television show "Shark Tank." Seven middle school and high school students had five minutes to pitch their business plans to local members of the business community, during the program's 6th Annual YEA! Investor Panel event. Students received a total of $6,000 in start-up funding to take the next step toward launching and running their own businesses this past week.

From students who started their own upcycled pet clothing line to a middle school student who pitched a classic car photography business, each student presented a business plan highlighting estimated production costs, yearly profits and timelines for company growth. Each student walked away from the competition with $1,000 to aid in the start-up of their business.

The Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce hosted the event as part of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, a national program that challenges local middle and high school students to develop a real business plan, produce legitimate products and win actual investments from the business community.

"This is our sixth year participating in the YEA! Program, and we're amazed with how far these students have come," said Bobby Clue, Executive Director of the Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce.

A panel of 13 local entrepreneurs listened to six different business proposals from students between the grades of 7-12. The students learned from business experts in weekly classes over 21 weeks. The volunteer teachers covered everything from budgeting for a business to marketing a product, according to the Chamber.

After more than 20-minutes of deliberation, the panel named Morgan, a junior at Somerset High School as the winner of YEA!'s local competition. Morgan will now pitch her business plan in a regional competition in Rochester, NY, and will have a shot at nationals in Washington, DC. Upon graduation from High School, K'LeAnn will also receive a full four-year scholarship to Campbellsville University for winning this year's YEA! Program.

Dobbs said that students have an option of a full scholarship from Somerset Community College or Campbellsville University.

"It's amazing," she said. "It doesn't matter whether they're 7th graders or high school seniors. They'll have (the scholarship) waiting for them."

Morgan already takes sports photos for her school, but with Conley's help, she developed "3DA Photography," which can take photographs and turn those images into 3-D shapes that can be keychains, Christmas ornaments or more.

"I was definitely excited to win," said Morgan. "I knew I needed something that would set me apart from all the other photographers that come to games. I knew that 3-D printing was the next big thing, so I wanted to combine it with photography."

Morgan said she "definitely see(s) potential" for continuing the business on into the future.

"K'Leann was an awesome student to mentor that really took my advice and constantly looked for ways to enhance and build her business," said Conley, her mentor and the bookstore manager at SCC. "It was a very rewarding process to see a business go from one great initial idea to a final idea that could be industry defining."

The runner-up was Jackson Owens, a sophomore at Pulaski County High School, with his company, "Westside Calves," which takes malnourished calves and raises them, turning them into the means for a profitable business. Owens was also awarded with $1,000 to help with the startup of his business.

"No matter what your finances are, scholarships have become a necessary step in everybody's transition to college," said Dalton. "We are so grateful to Campbellsville University for their support of the YEA! Program."

Scaling the program back from 31 weeks long to 21 weeks means more work and a bigger time crunch but it's more manageable for kids because it's less of a time commitment, said Dobbs.

The Pulaski County investor panel included: Alton Blakley Dealership Vice President, Paul Hoffman; Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital Marketing & Communications Director, MandyPrather; Somerset-Pulaski County Industrial Foundation Director, Martin Shearer; Cumberland Lake Shell President, Leah Taylor; 2019 Chamber of Commerce President, Leah Taylor; Team Modern HR Director, Shannon King; Forcht Bank Banking Officer, Ben Robertson; Bontech Corporation CEO, Elsa Brown; Citizens Bank Banking Officer, Zach Stanifer; Managing Partner of EHA CPA's, Seth Atwell, United Cumberland Bank President, Jim Johnson; Blackboard Student Services Operations Manager, Tyler Haynes and Citizens National Bank Sr. Vice President of Lending, Shawn Daugherty.

Dobbs had taken a few years off from managing the YEA! program but came back because she missed it.

"Seeing where the kids start from and where they are at the finish line blows my mind," said Dobbs. "It prepares them for the real world. Kids who can't speak in front of a crowd are (eventually) able to stand up in front of investors and make their presentations. ... These kids can take this business plan and use it to their advantage. They can go into any bank, and the bank will say, 'This is a strong business plan you have here.' There are a lot of adults who don't know how to start a business."