High school quartet develops business plan
HICKORY, N.C. (AP) – Except for Sir Isaac Newton, great ideas don’t normally just hit you on the head.
For most, it takes countless hours of brainstorming, research and work, and for those who don’t give up, the reward is usually an idea worthy of sharing with the world.
In the case of the Challenger Early College High School team of Valerie Stiltner, Cedric Clyburn, Karlina Ho and Chanler Watts, the idea earned them a finalist spot in this year’s Catawba County Chamber of Commerce’s Edison Project.
Their idea is called FarmToHome, and the plan is to bring produce from local farmers in the Catawba County area and deliver it straight to local customer’s homes. It’s been as much of a learning opportunity as a business opportunity for the students.
“The real world experience this project has given us is unbelievable, and being at Challenger Early College and having great mentors has really allowed us to take our education to another level,” the group’s CEO Cedric Clyburn said.
The annual Edison Project Entrepreneurial Competition is a celebration and recognition of the entrepreneurial spirit of the Greater Hickory Metro, according to catawbachamber.org/Edison-project.
Each of this year’s finalists will pitch their idea to a financial panel of bankers, venture capitalists and angel investors from across the state and will submit their business plan to be reviewed and judged.
On Nov. 13, the competition will conclude with a final pitch to an audience of community members at Market on Main in Hickory (5:30-7:30 p.m.), which kicks off Global Entrepreneurship Week presented by Lenoir-Rhyne University in November.
The finalists compete for an economic incentive in the amount of $10,000 for first place, $5,000 for second place, and $3,000 for third place.
This is the second year Challenger Early College High School at Catawba Valley Community College has had a team make it as a finalist in the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce’s Edison Project.
“As a school, we are already dedicated to all our students having access to soft skills and business skills, but they are just a small subset of today’s teaching,” Challenger Principal Heather Benfield said. “We’re trying to get students ready to go out and be good employees. This is taking those who are interested to the next level of employability.”
The principal has seen students, who were afraid to get up and talk in front of a class, go on to become a SkillsUSA presenter.
“We’ve seen them come up with ideas that are truly based on the needs of the local community. It’s been a unique opportunity for them to grow,” Benfield said.
This year’s Challenger team already has a track record of winning over supporters for their concept. They won this year’s SkillsUSA North Carolina championship in entrepreneurship and finished eighth in the national competition.
CVCC Small Business Center Director Jeff Neuville and Dean for the School of Business, Industry and Technology Gary Muller have been the team’s advisers the past year and worked with the group through the college’s Shark Tank competition, the SkillsUSA program and the Edison Project.
“Our advice to the FarmToHome team has been to understand who their target market is and what will motivate them to buy from FarmtoHome instead of their competition,” Muller said via email. “The experience will be invaluable to them no matter what career path they decide to follow. I believe their confidence will grow dramatically by being a part of this challenging competition.”
The team’s Marketing Vice President Chanler Watts grew up on a farm, and his grandfather was a successful farmer in the community.
“The idea just clicked. Someone said what if we just delivered fresh produce because there are a lot of farmers in the area,” Watts said. “Plus, I think we wanted to embody the heritage of where we came from.”
They all liked the idea of creating something that would help support community outreach among local businesses.
After the group had their idea, the real work started. The team began thinking about how the logistics would work, what the marketing would look like and what the financials would need to be just to take their idea from pages of text in a proposal to the doors of actual customers.
Valerie Stiltner, vice president of operations for the group, said the experience opened her eyes to what her parents go through owning their own business.
“I’ve heard from my parents how businesses can struggle and this helped me realize some of this stuff is really hard,” Stiltner said. “It made me want to commend my parents more and also gave me more self-awareness of all the things that go into having a business.”
Karlina Ho is the group’s vice president of finance. Her mother works as an accountant, and Ho had a similar reaction to seeing what her mom does compared to what she learned to do for her role with the team.
“Being able to apply my mother’s knowledge of finance and mine together was great,” Ho said.
Pooling their talents and backgrounds, the group created a 35-page business plan to present during the SkillsUSA competition and to the Edison Project board.
It contains information on ownership, products and services, market analysis, marketing plan, management and operations, and financial.
“Each one of those things have more specifics like sample marketing and advertising materials,” Clyburn said.