Jada Clay started cooking early in her life, first by watching her Grandma, and later by working for a woman who owned a hotel and restaurant business. Now a budding entrepreneur, Jada is launching a new breakfast and lunch restaurant of her own, called “Little Miss Kitchen,” aiming to help North St. Louis citizens access healthy and affordable meals. Although Jada’s new restaurant does not yet have a brick-and-mortar location and is in the concept stage, the business prospect and positive change it could bring to the area excited several seasoned St. Louis entrepreneurs who came together as the panel of judges for SLATE’s pilot Youth Entrepreneurship Competition, held at SLATE offices in St. Louis on December 13, 2017.
Jada was one of seven young women-entrepreneurs presenting ideas for building small businesses, modeled after the popular TV show “Shark Tank”. The event for a pilot workshop designed to target youth and encourage the development of entrepreneurial skills for St. Louis youth.
The seven youth entrepreneurs were selected from the SLATE Earn and Learn group, a program that invites professionals from St. Louis communities to present skill-building workshops and connect participants with resources they need to succeed. Topics include marketing, social media, networking, and – the most recent addition – developing entrepreneurial ventures. Invitations to participat in the Entrepreneurship Competition were extended exclusively to Earn and Learn youth participants with business aspirations.
During the workshop, participants gained a wealth of knowledge about setting up and running their own businesses, including feasibility of ideas, market share, profitability, and presentation skills to land financial support for business growth and expansion. Participants were judged by their proposal’s executive summary, product and service development, analysis of target markets, fiscal viability, marketing strategy, operational plans, and employee relations. Emphasis was given to the entrepreneurs’ oral presentations, which included Q&A sessions with the judging panel, with evaluations and feedback on the participants’ demonstrated confidence and positivity.
“It takes so much for a young person to come up, stand here, and speak,” said Fredrecka McGlown, Young Adult Division Co-Manager at SLATE and put together the competition. “Also, to be able to … put a pitch together, figure out the type of business they want to create, and the amount of money they need – this is a huge deal.” The program was open to youth participants of SLATE’s WIOA program, which offers a variety of employment and educational programs for young St. Louisans from age 16 to 24.
“We brought out a side of our youth we typically don’t see – the entrepreneurial side – thinking about owning a business. We introduced that [idea] to them,” said Fredrick Brown, WIOA Career Specialist and event organizer.
Challenged by Mayor Lyda Krewson last fall, SLATE pledged to “skill up” 500 St. Louisans before the end of 2017 in multiple career fields, including entrepreneurship. To meet this goal, the pilot program fully utilized SLATE’s existing partnerships with the St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC) and the Small Business Empowerment Centers (SBEC) to develop a collaborative, no-cost business venture development program for adult entrepreneurs. While the pilot was initially focused on serving individuals in St. Louis City and County who have lost employment through layoffs, it was modified to include the fresh ideas and energy of youth participants as well.
“Young adults need more one-on-one attention and hand-holding than our adult students,” said St. Louis SBEC’s Kevin Wilson, who conducted training in partnership with the SLDC. “We teach them at a different level, like classes at a Community College.”
The strategy worked, and has made way for a new group of young entrepreneurs to enter St. Louis’ business scene. Business ideas presented by program participants included a broad spectrum of services, including beauty shops, restaurants and bakeries, and childcare facilities.
The delighted judges provided participants with support, reinforced their visions for success, and offered inspiration to continue developing their business ideas. Participating youth were all supplied with professional business cards and LLC licensing at no cost. Jada was unanimously selected as the winner, and awarded with a laptop and a $50 gift card to help jump start her business plan.
Most importantly, Jada was challenged by one judge in particular, who encouraged her to turn her dream into reality and open her restaurant: “Don’t say if. Say, when I do this. You have got the passion, the story, and everything in you that people need to be successful. All you’ve got to do is to believe that you can do it, you’ve got to believe in yourself.”