This year I worked with Junior Achievement to develop its Pitch Competition & Showcase to bring in JA students from local high schools and have them present their startup ideas to a panel of accomplished entrepreneurs. The idea was to introduce budding entrepreneurs to the competitive side of business development, specifically teaching them to come up with an idea, research its feasibility, write a business plan and defend it – similar to traditional business plan competitions.
We decided to make the format similar to ABC’s popular business pitch show, Shark Tank, with one key difference: Q & A could happen at any time, compelling these students to think more on their feet. For being its inaugural year, the Pitch Competition & Showcase attracted some pretty big names in entrepreneurship as panel judges, such as Forecastle Festival founder JK McKnight, who shared his story about how Forecastle evolved from a humble gathering in a local park with a few hundred people to an annual event that owns the Louisville waterfront for 3 days a year and draws over 75,000 in attendance, creating an estimated $14 million impact on Louisville’s economy.
Because JA strives to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy, this event made sense as a way to introduce entrepreneurial thinking and processes at an earlier age. The students that get involved with Junior Achievement will be the ones who start and build the next Humana, Yum, and Papa John’s, companies that will economically benefit both themselves and the Commonwealth.
While the inaugural year of JA Pitch was confined to 30 Louisville-area schools, JA has ambitions to involve all Kentucky high schools with upcoming Pitch Competition & Showcase. There are bright students all over Kentucky just waiting for their chance to bring a new idea to life, and this event proved they’re up to the challenge–they just need that opportunity. JA was instrumental to my growth as an entrepreneur, and working with people like Debra Hoffer at JA and Lisa Bajorinas at GLI to make this a continued success is just one way we’re all trying to pay it forward.