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Lehigh Valley Teen Entrepreneur Challenge Has Largest Reach in Program History

By Colin McEvoy on July 18, 2022

The Teen Entrepreneur Challenge, hosted annually by the Lehigh Valley Launchbox and Penn State Lehigh Valley, returned this summer and enjoyed the largest reach in the history of the popular program.

Students from as far away as Virginia, southern Florida, and Puerto Rico participated in the seventh annual Teen Entrepreneur Challenge, which returned to an in-person format for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“This year was a huge success,” said curriculum director Rhonda Walker-Footman. “The students were particularly engaged this year, in part because it was a shorter program and we really had to keep them focused and moving. They did a phenomenal job.”

Thirteen student entrepreneurs participated in this year’s Teen Entrepreneur Challenge, a residential summer camp experience that allows high school students to develop the entrepreneurial mindset needed to start a business or run a large operation.

Held virtually each of the past two years due to the pandemic, this year’s challenge was held from July 5 to 10 at the Perkiomen School in Pennsburg, 

Each year the event features topics, speakers, activities, and a theme based upon the economic and cultural trends of the moment. This year’s theme was “The Future of Work: The Gig Economy, the Creator Economy, and Remote Work,” Walker-Footman said.

“Each year we try to give them as well-rounded an education as possible in all acts of entrepreneurship,” she said. “This year we talked about supply chain issues, but there’s always a focus on finances, marketing strategies, communications, and developing an elevator pitch.”

The week culminated with a “Shark Tank”-like pitch competition before a panel of judges, who chose the best business presentation and model. The winning team presented a 3-D prototype of their product Stand Handz, an item resembling a small hand used to stabilize kickstands for motorcycles.

“We always think of young people in entrepreneurship as having high-tech visions, but it was really good to see a low-tech solution to an existing problem,” Walker-Footman said. “We have to remember entrepreneurship can not only be about high-tech startups, but also about starting your own plumbing or electrical company, because these are services the community needs.”

During the week, students work as part of assigned teams on conceptual business models of their own design. In addition to core curriculum topics like values and business structure, they engaged themed content about such national global topics as widespread resignations during the pandemic and increased remote work opportunities.

The students learned key strategies needed to start a business, explored ideas on sustainability and adaptability, discussed real-world concepts through local companies, and learned STEAM educational programming and new technology skills.

The emphasis of the Teen Entrepreneur Challenge is to develop entrepreneurial thinking, not develop business ideas for actual launch. However, some ideas that have been developed in past events have turned into real-world businesses, Walker-Footman said.

For example, the ATM distribution company Capital Payments was launched by Joshua Dawson, currently a sophomore at the University of Delaware, based upon ideas he and his team developed at the Teen Entrepreneur Challenge, Walker-Footman said.

“Attending this camp is one of the best things I’ve ever done; they’ve really helped to mold me and my interests,” Dawson told The Morning Call. “It’s been a full circle moment to come back and help the kids who want to go into business, as I did.”

Lehigh Valley LaunchBox is a Penn State- and community-sponsored business accelerator program created as part of the Invent Penn State initiative. George Lewis, Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Research for the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), serves on the Lehigh Valley LaunchBox Advisory Board.

The LaunchBox awards micro grants to budding entrepreneurs. Partners of Lehigh Valley LaunchBox link micro-grant recipients to alumni, business leaders, and academic partners to provide mentorship and to help launch ideas and turn them into useful products.

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