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Middle and high school students attend entrepreneurship challenge

CHRIS MORELLI/THE EXPRESS Central Mountain Middle School teacher Sarah Strouse speaks to a group of her students during Friday’s PennCFL Entrepreneurship Challenge Conference and Competition.

LOCK HAVEN — More than 100 middle school and high school students converged on Lock Haven University on Friday for the PennCFL Entrepreneurship Challenge Conference and Competition.

The day-long event took place at LHU’s Parsons Union Building. Over the course of several hours, students learned how to develop a business plan, market a product and pitch their ideas.

Timothy Keohane, director of the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Center at LHU was one of the featured speakers throughout the day.

“It gets them thinking about being an entrepreneur,” Keohane said. “I love it. I think it’s great. I think it’s important for these concepts to be built early on.”

The day begin with brief introductions, followed by segments about business plans, competition, competitive advantages, target marketing and sales territory, elevator speeches, funding summaries and elevator pitches. The wrap-up included prizes for the day’s best ideas.

CHRIS MORELLI/THE EXPRESS Griffin Kerstetter, left, and Evan Miller discuss plans at the PennCFL Entrepreneurship Challenge Conference and Competition on Friday morning at Lock Haven University. Kerstetter and Miller, seventh grade students at Central Mountain Middle School, devised a special cutting board called “The Chop.”

Donna Mayes, the business teacher and club advisor at Central Mountain High School, played a key role on Friday. Although she is partial to the CMHS students, she walked around and spoke with each group to make sure they were on track throughout the morning and into the afternoon sessions.

“The kids come in with a business idea and they get it down on paper,” Mayes explained. “It’s a summarized business plan. So they’re thinking about, is it a need, is it a want? What market are they trying to connect? Is it children, teenagers or parents? We’ll work through the day about how they would market it and connect to the customer,” Mayes said.

During the morning session, students brainstormed ideas. One group came up with an idea for saving soap. Another pitched an idea for a blanket that keeps you cool. Students from State College, Bald Eagle Area and Central Mountain — just to name a few — bounced ideas off instructors, experts and their peers.

At Central Mountain High School, Friday’s event is a good warm-up for February’s upcoming “Cat Cage” event. What is “Cat Cage”? Well, just think “Shark Tank” but with middle school and high school students pitching their ideas to a panel of judges as they vie for a cash prize.

Last year’s winner of “Cat Cage,” senior Jessica Piergallini, is back to defend her title. Last year, she developed an adhesive bandage that could work as a replacement for stitches — Sticky Stitch. Piergallini said that the event gets the ideas flowing.

CHRIS MORELLI/THE EXPRESS Donna Mayes, business teacher and club advisor at Central Mountain High School speaks with a group of students at Friday’s PennCFL Entrepreneurship Challenge Conference and Competition.

“It really helps us prepare for multiple competitions in the future,” Piergallini said. “It helps us get our ideas down on paper and kind of figure out if it would actually work and be a plausible idea.”

When asked if she has her idea ready for “Cat Cage,” she was coy.

“I think so,” she said, smiling.

Senior Brady Williams, last year’s “Cat Cage” runner-up, said that he likes to focus on environmental ideas. Friday’s event helped him prepare for this year’s “Cat Cage.”

“There’s a lot of inspiration listening to Mrs. Mayes and Mr. Keohane talk,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of good information that I can put toward the competitions that are coming up.”

CHRIS MORELLI/THE EXPRESS Timothy Keohane of the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Center at Lock Haven University, speaks with a group of students from Midd-West High School in Middleburg at Friday’s PennCFL Entrepreneurship Challenge Conference and Competition.

The upperclassmen weren’t the only ones getting in on the action. At a table filled with Central Mountain Middle School students, seventh graders Griffin Kerstetter and Evan Miller were bouncing ideas off adults and students alike. They believe they had a winning idea.

“Our idea is a chopping block that has a lowered center so the juice doesn’t run everywhere,” Kersetter explained.

“An example is when you’re cutting up watermelon and the juice goes all over the top and makes a mess. This has a lowered center so that doesn’t happen,” Miller added.

They even have a name for their product.

“We call it ‘The Chop,'” Kerstetter said proudly.

CHRIS MORELLI/THE EXPRESS Central Mountain Middle School seventh grader Griffin Kerstetter talks to a group of his peers on Friday. Kersetter’s business idea was a special cutting board called “The Chop.”

Ideas like that are what Keohane likes to see.

“The goal of today’s event was learning how to put together a business plan,” he said. “They won’t finish it. They’ll go back to their schools and refine that based on what they learned today.”

For CMMS and CMHS students, it’s all leading to the Feb. 26 “Cat Cage” event.

“They’ll be in front of judges and it’s very competitive,” Mayes said. “It’s just a great event.”

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