Gilbert teen CEOs win investors for their start-up businesses

June 4th, 2017 | by Santan Sun
Gilbert teen CEOs win investors for their start-up businesses
Youth
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They weren’t building better mousetraps, but Gilbert teens Sophie Bruner and Alec Liapis were ready for the world to beat a path to their door.

Or so they and eight other teen members of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, run by the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce, proved recently as they faced a panel of local investors and discussed the new products and services they invented.

They had been preparing for the fateful session since September, gathering every week with YEA! director Pamela Manwaring to learn every facet of running a business – from product development to bookkeeping, marketing to distribution, cost analysis to quality control.

With the help of volunteer business owners and other experts, Manwaring had organized weekly guest speakers, meetings and lessons to help the teens get grounded in business fundamentals so they could actually turn their ideas into money-makers.

Their moment of truth came as each teen appeared before the local business owners who had volunteered to pony up money or other assistance to help them make the leap from concept to reality.

Sophie, Alec and their counterparts were prepared with slide shows that buttressed their five-minute speeches. The slides identified their projected operating and supply costs, financing strategy, target market, competition, short and long-term business goals and promotion plans.

Both Sophie and Alec proposed websites that had a charitable purpose, but would still make a profit – largely through ads since access to the sites would be free.

Sophie, who attends Mountain Pointe High School in Ahwatukee because her mother is the school psychologist there, developed a website called dyslexicstudent.com that aims to help kids with dyslexia find resources to overcome their condition and realize their full potential.

Noting that there are an estimated 750,000 people who suffer from dyslexia worldwide, Sophie said the site would be aimed primarily at college-bound high school students who “seek life tips to make school easier.”

Short-term, she hopes on achieving 5,000 views in the first three years of operation and raising $5,000 as well as raise awareness of dyslexia among kids in poverty-stricken neighborhoods. Her long-term goal is raising $15,000 during the first 10 years of the website’s operation.

Alec, a college-bound Highland High School football player, pitched a website called TerraSpan that is aimed at merging “social media with positive ideas” to offer users unique volunteer opportunities and connect with others who share their passions for solving various world issues.

His short-term goals include registering 12,000 members within the next eight months and partnering with 100 different nonprofit groups. Long-term, he hopes to have 100,000 registered users and “gain recognition in multiple states as well as partnerships with large national non-profit organizations.”

In the end, the panel agreed to give each entrepreneur investments ranging from $200 to $950 in cash that would supplement the money they had saved and the money they’d be getting from their parents.

Sophie received $350 of the $450 she needed from outside investors to supplement about the $300 in savings and support from her relatives. Alec got $400.

The panelists were no strangers to the business world. They included Ahwatukee auctioneer Bobby Ehlert, San Tan Ford owner Tim Hovik and PostNet owner Aaron Mueller.

Also on the panel were Ben Lewis, a design consultant and director of education for TechShop, a national chain of spaces for start-up manufacturers; Bill Lombardi, a consultant for IBM Global Business Services; Charles Morales III, operations manager for the publishing company for the “Ahwatukee Foothills News”; and Matthew Wilson, co-owner of the advertising-public relations firm Knoodle.

The Ahwatukee Chamber runs the only YEA! program in the East Valley and the young CEOs came from Ahwatukee, Tempe, Phoenix, Chandler and Gilbert.

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