Beaverton Chamber gives nod to middle-school entrepreneur
Lele Yang, chief executive officer of a company she calls Athletic-Comfort, last night won an investment of $924 from a core of investors at the annual Young Entrepreneurs Academy competition, sponsored by the Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce.
Yang competed against eight other middle and high school students in the program, called YEA! She is an eighth-grader at Stoller Middle School.
Her product is a compression sleeve to be worn by female volleyball players, with room for ice or heat packs. To win the chamber competition, Yang had to pitch her idea to local business leaders, explaining the costs, the benefits, the production and marketing, of her proposed product. She calculated the number of participants in volleyball, times the number of tournaments in the region, to find a market for her product.
"We want to sell them for $15," Yang told an audience Wednesday night at the Beaverton City Library. "Of course, that's for one sleeve."
When asked, why start with girls volleyball, Yang said the product could be expanded to include lacrosse and track athletes as well. "And eventually, boys."
Beyond Yang, this year's crop of CEOs include:
• Ilyas Malik, seventh grade, International School of Beaverton, whose product is a gummy candy made of ingredients that are acceptable within Muslim culture. His father, Amer Malik, said his son created the entire concept with the help of his little brother.
• Suhani Koppolu, sixth-grade at Highland Park Middle School, who created a plan to let kids design their own T-shirts at parties. Her company has a "Facebook presence, but we'll be creating a website," she said.
• Amy Browning, seventh-grade, Meadow Park Middle School, who wants to create summer camps at schools with a theme of science, technology, arts and math. She's already met with officials from the Beaverton School District to talk about venues.
• Jackie Zhang, 10th grade, Sunset High School, who wants to sell two flavors of tea. "Our company is looking for an elite clientele," she told the investors with confidence.
• Victor Li, sixth grade, Stoller Middle School, who wants to import jewelry from China, and to sell them in nail and hair salons. Why there? "Women and girls go to salons — a lot!"
• Katie Lee, ninth grade, Southridge High School, who is creating kits that allow people to reuse their old coffee grounds to make candles. Portland is the third-most-caffeinated city in America, she explained, and people here already recycle a lot. Her idea blends these two cultural phenomena.
• Cole Babin, 10th grade, International School of Beaverton, who's a fan of small, independent films rather than studio-centric mega-hits. He wants to create a website where people can upload their indie films — both finished and those in progress — for others to watch and review.
• Jeffrey Lin, ninth grade, Valley Catholic School, whose company will create bathing caps for dogs so their ears don't get wet, and infected, when they're bathed. The profits go to rescuing dogs in Asia, who often are condemned to the dog-meat industry.
The investors for this year's competition each put up $1,500, so the pot was $7,500 deep. The investors — and also the judges at last week's "Shark Tank" style presentations — were Mario Capece of Accenture; Amanda Roe of Biamp Systems; Polina Perju of Let's Remodel; Keith Wright of Century 21 Wright & Associates; and Candace White of The WhiteHouse Collection.
The chamber's Young Entrepreneur Academy was created in 2013 to encourage students in middle and high school to see themselves as future entrepreneurs. The YEA! program has created 30 chief executive officers and has launched 26 businesses, according to Evelyn Orr, director of operations at the chamber. "Including this year's class we will have graduated 39 students and launched 35 businesses in our fourth year of YEA!," Orr said.
The program is designed to inspire students in sixth- through 12th-grade in Beaverton to become successful contributors to the local community and economy by bringing their business ideas to reality. Students attend an after-school class once per week. Over the course of a year, they hear local guest speakers, attend seminars and tour businesses in Beaverton to learn the skills and knowledge necessary to create a legal, fully-fledged business.
Lorraine Clarno, chamber president, said the Young Entrepreneurs Academy idea came from the U.S. Chambers of Commerce, which has run such a program for about 15 year. The nationwide organization gave the Beaverton Chamber a grant to get the program started in 2013, Clarno said.