Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal

Budding businesses: Cayuga County-area students create ideas in entrepreneurship program

Reposted from the Auburn Pub

AUBURN — Silas Warren-McCormick is a few years shy of being able to get a drivers license, yet he has already sold multiple units of a solar-powered battery bank to two colleges.

Silas, 13, is one of 15 students from various Cayuga County-area schools who are part of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, a 30-week program in which the students are guided through creating and running their own business or non-profit.

Pam Heleen, Program Manager, YEA! Cayuga Community College, speaks to young entrepreneurs during the Young Entrepreneurs Academy program CEO Roundtable (Photo Credit: Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen)

The students have assigned business mentors for the program, and their efforts are leading up to an investor panel on May 7 in which the students pitch their ideas to investors and ask for funding. The program started in 2004 at the University of Rochester, but the local version is being hosted by Cayuga Community College and sponsored by LOCATE Finger Lakes, which is paying the students’ tuition for the program. CCC received funding in 2018 for a three-year program and the program was supposed to start that fall, but they didn’t get the minimum number of students to run the class.

Silas, who is in the eighth grade in the Southern Cayuga Central School District, said he adapted a tablet to become solar-powered and presented that tablet in a science fair in the seventh grade. He was interested in renewable energy by that point, and pursued a solar-powered cell phone case for his business idea before he determined his current battery bank concept would be cheaper to make. He is outsourcing the banks to a battery bank manufacturer based in China, but he is getting the items to the states, packaging them, bundling them with cable and marketing them.

Silas’ mentor, Pam Heleen, the manager of the program and executive assistant to CCC president Brian Durant, set Silas up with a meeting with Jeff Rosenthal, the college’s vice president of student affairs. Silas has sold CCC 25 units and sold 25 units to Wells College. He needs to go through some legal requirements such as getting a tax ID number.

He praised the entrepreneur program and talked about why he believes investors should put money into his idea.  “I believe it’s profitable and we already have sales,” Silas said.

The program began in October, Heleen said, and the students spent the first month talking about ideas, what motivated them, what their interests and hobbies are and how they can could “take what what you want to do and make a business out of it. Once they established those ideas, they went over ideas writing business plans. their visions, who their customers would be, talking about laws and regulations and more. The students took field trips to different businesses such as as Doug’s Fish Fry in Skaneateles, where owner Mark Edwards talked to the students. Other professional such as lawyers have talked to students, and earlier this month the students took part in a CEO roundtable where they learned from local business leaders.

Heleen, who is a small business owner herself, said the program functions like a college class and she is proud of how the students have conducted themselves. She believes all 11 ideas the students will be seeking funding for are viable business concepts and emphasized that the students will be making legitimate pitches to the panel of investors, which will be put together by LOCATE Finger Lakes Chairman and retired state Sen. Mike Nozzolio.

“There is actually money on the line,” Heleen said.

After the investors decide how much the students get at the panel, they will pick a semi-finalist who will go to a business competition in Rochester.

There is interest in continuing the program beyond the three years, Heleen said. She said she has loved working with these “talented kids with ideas who want to succeed.”

Another student’s idea is the nonprofit Sports 4 All, which will offer free cleats, sports equipment and needs-based scholarships to Auburn elementary school students, founded by Auburn High School student Madison Chambers and EZ-Carries, a mobility impairment gear company. The main product of the company, which was created by Union Springs student Alexander Church and Auburn student Johntae Smith, is an attachment to crutches that could hold a water bottle or other small items.

Auburn students Kayden Parry and Helena Evans-Murphy said they are excited about their business, Jar Bar Confections, where they bake cakes, cut them up and assemble them in jars with layers of frostings. Helena and Kayden said they both “fell out of love” with their respective business ideas  but became passionate about Jar Bar, adding that they both enjoy baking.

Kayden said the program solidified that she wants to pursue business. She and Helena are looking into finding a certified kitchen they can operate in and securing the proper license for their business. Despite the hours their efforts have required so far and will require in the future, they both believe their business is worth it.

“I’ve never really had such a huge passion for anything in my life,” Helena said. “But this really rejuvenated me and I just feel so great about it and excited and it’s just something I really, really want to do.”

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Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.
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