By: Dale King Contributing Writer
Bodies and bots inspired two Boca Raton student entrepreneurs to come up with ideas for businesses that earned them top honors during the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce’s Young Entrepreneur Academy Investor Panel Competition last month.
Twenty students who’d spent the previous 25 weeks learning the ins and outs of business development as part of the Boca Chamber’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy 2019 marked the completion of their term by participating in a competition.
The contest offered would-be business men and women a chance to explain their commercial proposals to an investor panel, hoping to earn a financial stake to launch their enterprises.
First place went to Rhea Jain and her company, Renoosh, an upscale petite clothing line. An 11th grader at Pine Crest School, Rhea – who is petite herself — will move on to participate in the YEA Regional Competition in Rochester, N.Y., later this year.
During her on-stage speech to an audience gathered at the headquarters of Office Depot on Military Trail in Boca Raton, Rhea told how she designed the pieces in her clothing line which were then manufactured in New York. The nine pieces in her ensemble can be rearranged to create 20 outfits.
She said she plans to begin selling her product in early June in at least one department store. She asked the investor panel for $1,500 to help kick off the product line.
Runner-up was Neil Sachdeva and his business, Vulcan A.I. The 10th grader at Pine Crest created the firm which uses a chatbot equipped with artificial intelligence (A.I.) to provide an answering system for small businesses.
He said the equipment would be useful to businesses that don’t have a human to answer phone messages. The chatbot would have a language understanding process that automatically creates responses to calls. He asked the investors for $4,300 to get his project off the ground.
“We are so proud of all of the students,” said Sherese James-Grow, who heads the YEA program for the Chamber. “The future of business in Boca Raton is looking very bright.”
She explained that the Young Entrepreneurs Academy program “transforms local middle and high school students (grades 6-12) into entrepreneurs as they embrace their passion, energy, creativity and talents to launch a venture.”
“In a nine-month long curriculum, students work in close cooperation with local leaders of industry, community members and educators to develop into the young entrepreneurs of today. The program culminates with a ‘Shark Tank’’-style event as students pitch their ideas to a panel of investors and ask for funds to support their business proposals.”
Members of this year’s investor panel were: Ira Bornstein, chief operating officer of TouchSuite; Eric Bucher, chief operating officer of Call Sprout; Greg Heller, vice president of corporate development for Modernizing Medicine; Catherine Meehan, global business partner for marketing at IBM and Khalid Saleem, vice president of digital platforms for Office Depot.
James-Grow lauded students, teachers and mentors for the “extreme amount of work” they put in. “The journey was not the easiest, but it was very rewarding.”
Others who spoke at the event were Todd Hale, executive vice president and global CIO of Office Depot; Chamber President and CEO Troy McLellan and Chuck Stout, executive vice president of CBIZ and chair of the Golden Bell Education Foundation, the Chamber’s educational arm that collects funding year-round to present to Boca schools in September to purchase items not included in the budget.
Other YEA presenters were: Max Gottbetter, “Band for Relief;” Madison Huang, “Camp Finder;” Guillermo Herrera, “Game Brain;” Marcelo Barba, “Gyrospinner;” Jameson Burmeister, “Infiniband;” Justin Rothberg and Jack Schwartz, “Offline;” Elizabeth Stein, “Pawprints bracelets;” Arya Hulloli, “Pet Sense” and Cameron Newman, “PossAbility.”
Also: Eladia Michaels, “Re-Wipes;” Jacob Grimaldi, “Snap Cap;” Annika Sachdeva, “Sun Streaks;” Benjamin Miller, “The Bendable Bag;” Arden Boyajian, “The Hype Syndicate;” Sophia Montague, “Volleyball Cam;” Kristine Assis, “V-Treats” and Isaac Moss, “Where’s My Car?”