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Business ideas blossom during SIUE Summer Entrepreneurship Academy

siueentrepreneurshipacademySome creative business ideas were developed during the SIUE School of Business Summer Entrepreneurship Academy. Among hem were a subscription box filled with snacks and sensory items for individuals with special needs, a showerhead that dispenses soap with the water, a technologically advanced mattress and an online platform for generating gift ideas.

Seven high school students from Belleville, Edwardsville and St. Louis participated in the augural offering of the SEA from June 18-22. The camp bolstered their confidence and entrepreneurial spirit as the students met and gained insight from successful local entrepreneurs and business advisors, and toured Code 3 Spices in Collinsville and the business incubator T-Rex in St. Louis.

“Watching the students come in Monday without an idea, and conclude on Friday with a concept they could understand and present to business professionals was wonderful,” said Katie Robberson, instructor in the SIUE School of Business’s Department of Management and Marketing. “Our Summer Entrepreneurship Academy helped students learn and see what it takes to be an entrepreneur, and also hear from ‘real ones’ who offered valuable inspiration to our group of aspiring creatives.”

The finale of the SEA was a pitch competition held on Friday where the participants presented their business plan to a panel of business experts. The panel of mentors included SIUE alumnus Jeffrey Harrison, founder and CEO of Rovertown; Michelle Motley, co-owner of Source Juicery; Sean McMeen, owner of Vinnie Mac; and Laura Swanson, PhD, SIUE School of Business professor emeritus.

“Don’t be afraid to fail,” McMeen told participants. “It’s through failure that we grow. Also, have confidence. You can do whatever you set your mind to.”

Emily Cecil, of Edwardsville, was awarded first place for her “Special Things” business concept.

“Special Things is a subscription box service for people with special needs,” Cecil explained. “An adult could order a box and choose what combination of items they’d like to have shipped to them. Categories to choose from would include sensory toys, sensory clothing, snacks and learning aids.”

Cecil came up with the idea on Monday after thinking about her passion for special education and business.

“If I were to take this business concept further, it would allow me to combine the two interests,” she said.

After Harrison presented Cecil with $100 and a pledge to buy her first 10 “Special Things” boxes, the panel of business experts offered ideas to advance her concept such as building credibility with a professional backer and delving into the charity network to market her product.

They highlighted the potential success of “Special Things” as it builds off a proven model with a new focus, serves as an awareness and educational tool, and is an investment from the heart.

Other participants were Zachary Hamilton and Bryson Ivy who presented “Smarter Home,” Jared and Wyatt Engeman who pitched their business plan for “Giftly,” and Mark Bonds and Antwan Stith who created the “Lazy Shower” concept.

To all of the SEA participants, Motley said, “Age does not limit you in entrepreneurship. I encourage you to follow through with these ideas.”

“Don’t underestimate the people in here and in your life, who are willing to give back,” Harrison added. “All of us got to where we are, because people helped us. We’re happy to give back if you have questions, ideas to share or need introductions.”

PHOTO: SIUE Summer Entrepreneurship Academy instructors, pitch competition judges and participants posed in the School of Business.

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