Mary Katherine Murphy
Scotland County Young Entrepreneurs Academy graduated its first class of fledgling business leaders this week.
The ceremony was held Tuesday night at the A.B. Gibson Education Center, marking 19 middle and high school students’ completion of the program.
YEA! is sponsored by the Laurinburg/Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Scotland County schools.
The chamber first established the program, the only one of its kind in North Carolina, last year in an effort to expose young people to the nuances of operating a business and give them hands-on experience in starting their own companies. Chamber officials say that it has been a success here.
“This was one of those five-minute ideas of mine where I said ‘we need this,’,” said Theresa Pinto, former president of the local chamber and the program’s lead instructor. “I found that the communities that were putting this program together were larger than us, had more resources than us, and they seemed to have their stuff together a little bit more than we did. But I thought our kids and our community deserved this program, so I’m going to find a way of doing it, and I’m glad that you and your families had faith in the idea.”
Students developed business plans and company ideas, learning the ins and outs of finance and marketing as they went along. In April, they presented eight businesses, creating everything from handmade jewelry to social media access, to a panel of local business leaders who invested start up monies in the student companies.
“This program has taught me responsibility, and I see my business going nowhere but up from here,” said Terrence Smith, a rising Scotland High junior who drew inspiration for his organic fertilizer business from his grandfather’s farm. “I would recommend this to anybody who has an idea and has a lot of endurance, because it’s tough, it’s not easy.”
Graduates accepted completion certificates and YEA! tee shirts from chamber Chairman Becca Hughes and YEA! Co-Director Jen McRae.
“You have set goals and achieved them - that sets you apart from a majority of your peers and, actually, from most adults in this world,” Hughes told the students. “The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and the federal government are both implementing programs to help with financial literacy and personal finance, and I have to say that you guys are way ahead of the game already.”
The ceremony also featured speaker Jerome Davis, who spent his high school summers working in a McDonald’s and now owns five McDonald’s franchises in North Carolina and South Carolina. Davis also congratulated the graduates for the achievements they’ve made at such a young age.
“I can tell you that 95 percent of adults will never have the opportunity that you all have now,” Davis said. “We have students from sixth graders to seniors with their own company, their own bank account, their own tax ID number. How many people do you all know who are doing that?”
Davis also offered business advice.
“Never lose the passion for what you are trying to do,” said Davis. “Stick to what you do the best. Learn your trade like nobody else knows it. If you’re selling hardware, if you’re selling cakes, whatever, learn the craft, and learn to do it the best that anyone knows how to do it.”
Davis also told the graduates to find quality employees and treat them with respect.
“One day you’ll want to be able to just call your place of ownership and ask how things are going, and they’ll say ‘things are going, boss, you enjoy the rest of the day,’ Davis said. “That’s what you want. To have those kinds of people, they need to be trained properly. Not only do they need to be trained properly, you need to be sure that you treat them with the utmost respect, you need to make sure you give them everything they need to be successful, and you need to give them a reason to want to work for you.”
Davis said quality not money will be the key to success.
“Do not let the money aspect of any business determine how successful your business is,” he said. “If you’re making cakes, keep on making cakes from a quality standpoint. Keep on having a good product, it will eventually start growing. Don’t ever shortcut quality in anything you do. Keep it high standard, keep it quality, keep it focused. As you take care of people and you make sure the quality’s there, the money starts to come through.”
Most of the program’s young entrepreneurs intend to pursue the businesses they established during their time in the program.
“I expect us in the future to expand and end up bringing in accessories and our business becoming more widespread and marketing outside of Laurinburg,” said Summer Luquer, who operates Forgiven Clothing and Accessories with fellow students Jalen Poole and Brandon Beckwith.
“I want my business to grow to the point where I can produce enough biochar to support farmers, starting off in this area,” added rising Scotland High junior Anna Lisa Ciarrocca.
Ciarrocca’s Southeastern Biochar was selected by the investor panel to represent the program in a scholarship competition in Rochester, N.Y. in May.
“My experience in Rochester was great - I had a great time and learned a lot and met a bunch of people,” said Ciarrocca. “We learned about different CEOs of companies in Rochester, which is a big entrepreneurial city.”
Luquer added that, ultimately, YEA! gave its students abilities and confidence that many high school students would do well to learn.
“In YEA, I learned not to procrastinate and to just jump in there and do it - work your hardest and do what you want to do.”