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Students compete for business funding

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By The Staff

By Jimmie Earls

Sun Staff Writer

It’s not often that enterprising high school students are given a chance to start their own business, but that’s exactly what the DECA program at Washington County High School is trying to accomplish. Through a partnership with the Kentucky Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute, DECA students are sponsoring a contest where two contestants will have a chance to start or expand their own business.

The DECA program at WCHS is a student organization that educates its members about marketing, entrepreneurship and business strategy. The contest, dubbed “Fostering Youth Entrepreneurship from the Ground Up”, is open to students who have an existing business that they wish to take to the next level or start a business from scratch.

“We gave applications out to students who wanted to try to start their own business,” said DECA member Lee Mudd. “We give them step-by-step instructions on how to do it. Young people in Washington County don’t have a lot of stuff to do. If they want to stay in the county, they can start now with their business.”

Elizabeth Perry teaches the DECA class at the high school and is encouraged by the students' enthusiasm.

“We have about five or six applicants who are very interested in actually starting up their own business,” said Perry. “They've really been working hard to put together their business plans and have been talking to different adults in the community to strengthen their business plan to try to win.”

Among the applicants are plans for a local horse show, a local tropical fish supplier, fresh organic produce to be sold at the farmer's market and a business that would sell quality organic beef to Washington County businesses.

Mudd and fellow DECA students Elizabeth Haydon and Clare Smith will judge the entries along with local members of the KECI.

The KECI is a program sponsored by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture's Cooperative Extension Service. It serves 22 tobacco-dependent counties in the commonwealth. The coaches are volunteers who use their experience and expertise to guide entrepreneurs in developing or expanding a small business.

“For so long, DECA has done hypothetical projects in the past,” said Hal B. Goode, executive director of the Springfield - Washington County Economic Development Authority. Goode is also part of a group of Washington Countians involved with the KECI. “What we want to do is take these young people and their ideas and make them materialize. As part of the KECI, we have to do a regional project. Our idea was to spur entrepreneurship at the high school level with freshmen and sophomores using DECA.”

Along with Goode, the Washington County coaches who are working on the youth entrepreneurial project are Pat Rose, Jimmy Hatchett, Greg Karsner and Bud Blair. Other KECI groups in the region involve Todd Hoskins and Anita Skaggs from Casey County, Chris Hamilton from Marion County and Ann Beard of Taylor County. Each group is working to develop youth entrepreneurship in their respective high schools.

Goode wants to teach the students the importance of having a business plan and being prepared when it is time to go to financial institutions to apply for funding for their business.

“If you’re not prepared, chances are you’re not going to get the money,” said Goode. “The KECI is also designed to work with adults. We’re there to work with anybody to spur entrepreneurship.”

Entries will be narrowed down on Jan. 9, and the two finalists will each receive a laptop computer, wireless printer, free business coaching from a member of the KECI and $500 to invest in their business.

Goode added, “The DECA group has got a lot of energy and I think they’ll go to the nationals with this project.”

Perry and Goode would both like to see this project continue in the future.

Perry added, “We're hoping to secure the funding to make this an annual project where we can award something similar to this every year to several students.”

Goode stresses the need for guidance and resources for those interested in either staying in the county to start a business or for those looking to move their existing business to the area.

He added, “If you get somebody who wants to start a business in Washington County, chances are they want to stay here, grow here and continue on.”

Perry added, “Who knows how this can help the Washington County economy down the road, if we can get people to start up their own business?”

The winning students are expected to be announced by mid-January.