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Spain Park student wins Shark Tank-style competition hosted by Junior Achievement of Alabama

High school finalists presented their business plans in a Shark Tank-style competition hosted by Junior Achievement of Alabama on May 3, 2024. The Business Plan Challenge was hosted at the office of Bridgeworth+SAVANT Wealth Management. Students showcased their entrepreneurial spirit by presenting detailed business plans in a nurturing environment to the judges’ panel made up of esteemed local entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Junior Achievement of Alabama President, Chip Reed shared the vision behind the Business Plan Challenge which is a component of the Be Entrepreneurial program. 

“Many students learn technical knowledge, but what we’re doing at JA through the Be Entrepreneurial program and the Business Plan Challenge is teach them to apply it.” 

Ultimately, it’s about more than just entrepreneurship. “Success comes from application. Entrepreneurial education is a workforce development skill. These students practice observing problems around them and develop solutions. This practice translates to every industry out there and I can’t think of a single corporation that wouldn’t be better off with students who are taught to be problem solvers.” 

After hundreds of Birmingham area students who participated in JA’s Be Entrepreneurial program submitted video applications, the top 10 were invited to pitch their business ideas in person for the final round of the competition. While finalists compete for $15,000 in scholarships, all participants enjoy a worthwhile, real-world learning experience. 

All participants were instructed to submit their business plan with a PowerPoint presentation and video pitch. The top 10, however, had the additional tasks of creating a 60-second video advertisement/commercial and participating in a panel discussion in the finals. 

The experience lasted half a day, students had to present in front of the judges but also in front of an audience of their peers. “Even though it’s a competition, with scholarship money on the line, there is a real sense of comradery. The students are all very respectful of each other,” stated Reed.

Ryan Harbuck of Hancock Construction spoke of his experience as a judge, “Junior Achievement created an event that was incredibly well done, organized, professional and thorough. You could have inserted real businesses into the event and it would have felt the same.” 

He noted the intensity at which students were challenged during the Q&A portion. “Because the judges represented so many different areas of expertise, the panel offered a variety of challenges and opportunities for students to fight for their ideas.” 

Judges included Wayne Harris, Bridgeworth+SAVANT; Ryan Harbuck, Hancock Construction; Donald Demetz, EBSCO Capital; BeBe Goodrich, Interior Installations; and Matt Jaeh, Techstars. 

From organizational leadership to tech, and even company acquisition, judges did not go easy on the finalists when it came to discussing the legitimacy of their business pitches, the competition, the financials, and more. 

“The most prepared and articulate students stood out and made it into the top spots. All the students were really strong.” 

Of the applicants, the finalists were selected based on an intensive rubric that scored their creativity, innovation, delivery, product, target market, competitive advantages, company ethics, financials, investment rationale, and more. 

Judges announced Keaton Sandford of Spain Park High School as the first-place winner. Stanford was awarded a $5,000 scholarship for his business plan, Cuisine Compass. 

Harbuck remarked, “Unanimously, Sandford was awarded first place with his business Cuisine Compass because he offered real-world problem-solving, a prepared and knowledgeable presentation, and knowledgeable responses to the panel questionnaire.” 

Top 10 (alphabetically): 

Cullen Bryant, Shop Swift 

Hoover High School 

Meredith Colabrese, Organic Matter 

Hoover High School 

Grayson Collins, Hear Me 

Hoover High School 

Morgan Fleming, Chroni Care

Hoover High School 

Shayla Haines, Jordan Sauve, & Emily Rushing, Safe Haven 

Hewitt Trussville High School 

Sara Hanock & Adam Jackson, Influbiz

Hoover High School 

Cage Kizzire, Sip Select

Spain Park High School 

Karis Moore, Ignite Sports Marketing

Hoover High School 

Andrew Phillips, Recollect

Spain Park High School 

Keaton Sandford, Cuisine Compass

Spain Park High School 

Reed stated proudly, “These students are getting to do something most people will never do. They are hirable even now. 

Students in the Be Entrepreneurial program at their high school learn the technical skills of an entrepreneur. The Business Plan Challenge allows them to apply that knowledge in a real-world, business engagement environment. Students come up with a solution to a problem, work through branding their business, do market research, come up with a budget, put together a pitch, and create commercials. Character development and communication skills are a major part of the applied learning that happens in the Business Plan Challenge. 

Reed reflected on this year’s Business Plan Challenge, “We get so much negative news so often but when we get to experience these high school students in this setting, you can’t help but feel better about the future of our community and what’s going on in our schools.

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