Start-up Challenge At Buffalo High School Fosters Entrepreneurship At A Young Age

Feb 26, 2021

Buffalo High School sophomore Caydence Engling said growing up, she thought she wanted to be a doctor because she likes to help people.

"Then ever since I started taking business classes, I just came to the conclusion that I want to be able to own my own business and kind of do my own thing," Engling said.

That business class was with her teacher Kami Kennedy. Kennedy, a business owner herself, also advises the Future Business Leaders of America chapter at Buffalo.

"My whole goal is that they're going to be able to accomplish and continue to grow and develop businesses, but I think they'll be like 15 years ahead of where I was starting. So, I think that just gives them that opportunity because I really believe that entrepreneurship is experience," Kennedy said.

It was a no-brainer when the Sheridan Start-Up challenge got going in 2017 that Kennedy wanted to use the experience for her class.

Kennedy had her students start applying to the entrepreneurship competition for practice.

"We do this in class every day. We talk a lot about ideas and writing things down and solving problems really is what we're always focused on. And so let's go ahead and share some of our solutions out there," she said.

The challenge is for entrepreneurs to compete for funding and business support. It's put on in Sheridan by Impact 307, one of three of the University of Wyoming's business incubators across the state. Its goal is to encourage economic diversification.

Scot Rendall, Impact 307 Director, said, while students from Buffalo have applied each year, none had been selected as a semi-finalist by the judges.

"But they were pretty intrigued by some of the ideas that students had this year. And so the idea came up in the Sheridan Start-Up Challenge judging process, that, hey, maybe let's continue to cultivate that spirit of entrepreneurship down there, maybe we create their own student startup challenge," he said.

After the 2020 Sheridan competition ended, Rendall and his team worked with Kennedy and put together the seed funding, around $5,000, half of which was donated by local businesses in Buffalo. Rendall worked with the students to prepare their business plans. He gave them critiques and helped them sharpen their presentations

"We polished their value proposition in terms of what their product or service is supposed to do. We talked about their market, we talked about a financial model, you know, how do they expect to make money with their idea," he said. "Then, the pitch day was before the judge panel, and the judges had a whole number of additional questions for them."

Since the initial pitch event, Rendall is continuing to work with the four finalists on their business plans and there will be another chance for the students to win funding to get their ideas up and running.

Sophomore Caydence Engling is one of the finalists and her business idea is to revamp day-planners under the name Purpose Planners.

"I found a lot of planners are super generic, or they're way over the top and kind of confusing," she said. "So I kind of wanted to create and design something that is not only simple, but also kind of has that touch of creativity as well."

Part of Engling's plan is to pitch her planner design to Buffalo High School. Through this process, she's learned a lot about the effort it takes to be a business owner.

"It feels really good. I didn't think that I was going to be a business owner. I'm only 15 and a sophomore. And so it's kind of weird because not a lot of kids are like that," she said. "It's kind of like a maturity level, like, it's just really cool to kind of see myself grow and evolve like that."

Rendall said even if these students don't end up pursuing these businesses for the long-term, there are lifelong lessons.

"I think no matter what they end up doing in the future, these are valuable life skills that will help them understand what it takes to run a business, what it takes to make a profit, what it takes to satisfy a customer," he said.

Rendall said he and Kennedy have learned some lessons from this first experience of creating the competition for students, like not holding the presentations during finals week.

Working with the students has been its own challenge with all the classwork and activities competing for their attention, he said.

"If we can work out the kinks to work out the bugs with this process here, why wouldn't we start it in Sheridan High School? Why wouldn't we start it down in Natrona [County] High School where we have another incubator?" he said. "That will be the idea. And if I can kind of perfect the model of how to get students engaged and produce some really good plans, I think it's going to be wonderful for the state to be able to develop these young entrepreneurs."

Rendall said they'll be wrapping up this competition soon and begin making plans for the next.