By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
The East Carolina Agriculture and Education Center on Kingsboro Road turned into an episode of “Shark Tank” Thursday morning.
A group of Edgecombe County teenagers presented their business ideas to a panel of “sharks,” and asked them to invest in their proposed businesses. Visionaries of the “House of Fun” and ultimate winners of the competition asked the sharks for $500,000 to start their business.
“What are your qualifications? Why would I give you half a million dollars?” one of the sharks, Traci Dixon, asked the presenters. After some negotiation, the sharks and teenage entrepreneurs came to a deal – a $200,000 investment in exchange for 40 percent of the business.
“The purpose is getting kids off the street, getting them out of trouble, also giving them something to do while their parents are out shopping,” said William Edwards, a Tarboro High School graduate who worked with Marquon Pettaway, a Tarboro High student, and X’Savius White, a SouthWest Edgecombe High School student on the “House of Fun” business plan during the weeklong entrepreneurial boot camp hosted by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Office of Edgecombe County.
The teenagers outlined for the sharks their plan for the “House of Fun,” which would include a go-cart track, a dune buggy track, a slam ball court, a tumbling room with trampolines, an arcade room and a Chick-Fil-A to satisfy the teenagers’ appetites. Edwards said he would like to actually open such a business in a community building, and have adults on site to mentor the teens using the facility.
“We’ll have leaders there telling them right from wrong,” he said.
The teenagers had to present their business plan to a group of “bankers” earlier in the week.
“I learned it’s not easy to get a loan,” said White. Pettaway learned some lessons about business investment, as well.
“You’ve got to have a lot of money to start a business,” he said.
A business plan for a clothing store “21 and Up” earned second place in the “Shark Tank” competition.
“Ten percent of our proceeds we’re going to give back to charity,” said “21 and Up” entrepreneurs Nyla Green, a student at Rocky Mount Academy, and Jackiyah Knight, a student at Tarboro High.
“We’re both into fashion, so it just seemed like a cool idea,” said Green. She said the store would sell “simple, everyday-type clothes for juniors.” The high school student said the camp has given her a greater appreciation for her father, Lamone Green’s, operation of his downtown Rocky Mount embroidery business.
“Alexis’ and Candace’ Beauty Salon,” envisioned by Alexis Arnold, a rising 12th grader at Tarboro High, and Candace Lynch, a rising 9th grader at North East Carolina Prep School, earned third place in Thursday’s competition.
“We’ll have people in there catering to you,” Arnold told the sharks, outlining the salon’s customer service plan. When the sharks asked about their credentials, Arnold told them she has learned the art of hairstyling from her aunt, who owns a beauty salon in Rocky Mount, and that Lynch is just beginning cosmetology school.
After the business pitches, one of the sharks, Art Bradley, director of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Office of Edgecombe County, had some words of advice for all the young entrepreneurs:
“Find something that you have a passion in and work toward it,” he said. “Small business entrepreneurship is a great thing, particularly for our county. We don’t have a lot of large industries coming in.”
Another shark, Rev. Richard Joyner, pastor of Conetoe Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, encouraged the teenagers to build business partnerships now that could last a lifetime and continue to pursue their business plans.
“Keep brainstorming, because there is another big market out there waiting,” he said. Dixon, of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Office of Nash County, advised the teenagers to combine their motivation with the education they will need to start a business.
“I’m excited to see if any of you all decide to take your idea to the next step,” said Jamilla Hawkins, community and rural development agent for the Edgecombe County branch of the N.C. Cooperative Extension. To her, having the tools to become an entrepreneur is important in today’s economy.
“They’ll become self-reliant and be able to generate their own income and if they’re very successful, create more jobs,” she said. This is the first summer the cooperative extension office has hosted the entrepreneurial boot camp for county teenagers.