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Schools may be closed, but that didn’t stop a group of highly motivated young entrepreneurs from refining their business plans and preparing their pitches for the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) St. Louis Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. Despite logistical obstacles stemming from the pandemic, this annual competition, the culmination of NFTE’s yearlong entrepreneurship curriculum, took place on time — and online.

Participating students presented their original business ideas by video to a panel of esteemed judges, who named three winners. The first and second place winners, who will receive $1500 and $1000, respectively, advance to NFTE’s National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge in September, where they will compete for a grand prize of $12,000. The third-place winner will receive $500.

The first place winner was Micah Montgomery, 16, from Jennings Senior High School, who won with a business pitch for Cavy Pads, which provides owners of guinea pigs and similar pets with stylish, easy-to-clean, animal-safe cage bedding.

In second place was Michael Bostic, 16, from St. Louis Science Center, for "I Am Not a Statistic," a nonprofit after-school program that combats illiteracy in students from grades three to five.

Third place went to Lailah Hall, 17, and Anthony McDonald,18, from St. Louis Science Center. They won with a pitch for Quick Farm, an app that helps people in local food deserts access healthy and affordable produce.

“In the current uncertain climate, young people are realizing more than ever that entrepreneurship offers an opportunity for personal empowerment,” said NFTE president and CEO, Dr. J.D. LaRock. “Employers look for candidates with an entrepreneurial mindset, which the NFTE curriculum fosters. Whether or not they ultimately run their own companies, our students are being set up to succeed, and we are eager to support their endeavors.”

Two special awards were announced during the event: T-REX was honored with the NFTE St. Louis Corporate Volunteer of the Year Award, and Susan Salzman, CAO of Brand2Creative, was honored with the NFTE St. Louis Individual Volunteer of the Year Award.

Student business pitches were judged by a panel of experts that included Gary Vonderhaar of Mastercard, Harrison Luvai of Citi and Ruth Saphian of EY.

The NFTE St. Louis Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge was presented by EY and Mastercard, with additional support from Citi Foundation and Microsoft.

About NFTE

Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship is a global nonprofit that activates the entrepreneurial mindset and builds startup skills in young people from under-resourced communities. Reaching more than 100,000 middle and high school students annually, NFTE works with schools and community partners in 25 U.S. states and 10 countries around the world. Leveraging classroom teachers and volunteers from top-tier companies, NFTE’s research-based model teaches students how to identify a business opportunity and launch a business; helps them learn about the range of jobs and occupations available to them; and develops their “entrepreneurial mindset” — a set of skills including creativity, adaptability, communication, and collaboration that leads to success in any career. Since 1987, NFTE has educated 1.2 million young people worldwide, helping thousands launch businesses and companies of all sizes. Learn more at nfte.com.