“The Next Big Thing”: St. Louis Students Winners in the Innovation Economy

Nayla Nava and Maya McGregory took the stage at the St. Louis Science Center on Tuesday to present their business idea for Afrospanic Atmosphere. It’s a plan they’ve been working on since the start of the year.

“We are a clothing and accessories line that encourages black and Hispanic communities to pursue STEAM careers,” McGregory said. “We want to inspire black people and Hispanics to pursue their dreams and pursue their goals.”

STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.

Nava and McGregory aren’t just hoping to see success in St. Louis; they dream of taking their ideas to a national and even global scale.

The two high school students competed in the St. Louis Metro Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge against 25 other students from across the region. They not only won the competition, but they are now representing St. Louis in a national competition where they could win $ 25,000 to fund their startup.

The competition is part of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), a non-profit organization that works with entrepreneurship educators to encourage students to engage in the innovation economy. The program exists in seven school districts in the metro area.

“We are a comprehensive education program for entrepreneurship that takes place in the classroom throughout the year,” said Chyna Bowen, Regional Director of the NFTE. “These students learn about entrepreneurship during the school day. They learn about business and enterprise and what entrepreneurship and venture capital look like.

Young innovators

One of the districts that NFTE works with is the Ferguson-Florissant School District, where students from McCluer South-Berkeley participated in the NFTE program and competition.

“We are personal trainers who work with high school athletes,” said LaTavia Davis, junior at McCluer South-Berkeley and co-founder of T&J Athletics. “Our main goal is to bring high school athletes to a college level.”

Davis worked with his classmate Jaylen Gardner to create the business case, conduct market research, and establish a branding strategy to promote their business.

Credit Chad Davis | Saint-Louis public radio

Bradley Johnson (middle) speaks with students from his entrepreneurship course at McCluer South Berkeley who took part in the St. Louis Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge.

McCluer South-Berkeley teacher Bradley Johnson says the NFTE program emphasizes the needs of the community.

“We are looking at other communities in the area,” Johnson said. “What Kirkwood has that Ferguson, Florissant or Berkeley doesn’t have and is really intentional to identify problems, identify opportunities and is there enough market to capitalize and own a business? . “

Motivate young entrepreneurs

The challenge of getting more students to participate in the innovation economy is not unique to St. Louis; it’s nationwide. A 2017 Gallup poll showed that only 27% of high school students plan to start their own business. This has decreased from 35% in previous years.

“Our children need [the program]”said Obinno Coley, business education teacher at Normandy high school.” They can have a hard time finding a job, and I say to children all the time, ‘Sometimes you don’t need to find a job. ; you are the job.

Chyna Bowen assists several McCluer South Berkeley students who have participated in the St. Louis Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge.  May 3, 2019

Credit Chad Davis | Saint-Louis public radio

Chyna Bowen (left) helps McCluer South-Berkeley students who took part in the St. Louis Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge.

Bowen said the program is designed for low to moderate income areas. She hopes those who entered the program and did not make it to the national competition will develop their ideas and bring them to the real world.

St. Louis winners Nava and McGregory envision their clothes not only as a fashion statement, but also as a movement that can fund scholarships and programs and create a larger message.

“We don’t want colorism to be a thing,” Nava said. “We just want to see black scientists everywhere, more black artists, Hispanic mathematicians; I want to see that.”

McGregory and Nava will be taking part in the NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge in October to see if their pitch becomes the next big thing.

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis.

Send your questions and comments on this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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