New York, NY, Oct. 26, 2020 Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) has announced that 17-year-old Jose Rodriguez of Providence, RI, won the top prize at NFTE’s 15th annual National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge, presented by Citi Foundation and Ernst & Young LLP (EY US), with support from PayPal. This year’s competition took place online, as 44 young entrepreneurs representing 34 businesses engaged in a virtual “pitch-off” on October 21 and 22. Competitors from Ireland, Israel, Mexico and Singapore joined students from the U.S. who had prevailed in a series of local and regional pitch competitions held online last spring. After quarterfinal and semifinal elimination rounds, the three finalists presented their businesses last night to a panel of five VIP judges and were collectively awarded a total of $25,000 to help grow their businesses or further their educational goals.
Rodriguez, a student at the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (known as "The MET") in Providence, took first place with his business plan and pitch for Tasium, a company that develops specialized clothing for people on the autism spectrum. Rodriguez was awarded cash prizes totaling $12,000. Inspired by his younger brother, who is autistic, Rodriguez created a solution for people with autism and ADHD who need a readily-available outlet for their anxiety or hyperactivity. To avoid relying on fidget toys that are often lost or misplaced, he designed clothing with built-in sensory stimulation tools to release distractions and energy without interrupting others.
“This opportunity means the world to me and my family,” said Rodriguez. “I look forward to building Tasium to not only help my little brother but others like him. My business plan is intact and my operating plan is to bring Tasium to the next level in marketing and production.”
The two runners-up were each awarded prizes totaling $4,000. Charlize Leon, a 16-year-old student from Perth Amboy, NJ, pitched her business Gifting Bites, a mobile app that allows businesses to “gift” surplus food items to nonprofit organizations or consumers in need. Avi Goel, a 15-year-old student from San Jose, CA, pitched his business GeoGenius, which provides geographic expertise.
“The creativity and determination demonstrated by these young entrepreneurs is particularly inspiring given the challenges they’ve faced during the pandemic,” said Dr. J.D. LaRock, NFTE’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “But flexibility and adaptability are among the hallmarks of the entrepreneurial mindset, so in a sense it’s not surprising. Historically, small businesses and startups jumpstart job creation in an economic recovery, and we expect the next generation of entrepreneurs to lead the way. Congratulations to this year’s winners and all who competed.”
Judges for the final round of competition included Tina Davis, Director, Sponsorships and Marketing, Citi; Sarah Kauss, Founder S’well Bottle; Lee Henderson, Assurance Partner and Americas Growth Markets Leader, EY; Bernardo Martinez, VP Global Merchant Lending, PayPal; and NFTE alum Daniel Blank, CEO and Co-Founder, Toggle.
In her capacity as creative strategist for disruptive direct-to-consumer dental aligner company Byte, actor Kerry Washington delivered a video message of support and encouragement to the NFTE competitors, as did Paralympians Trey Jenifer and Scout Basset, participating courtesy of Citi.
In addition, Ray Grandoit, Founder of Lifecoach for Athletes, was honored with the Daniel Treanor Memorial Award. The $500 prize is given annually to a NFTE alum who has fully embraced the entrepreneurial mindset despite a significant physical or health-related challenge.
“NFTE students have demonstrated once again the power of entrepreneurial qualities such as creativity and the drive to bring ideas to life, especially during a challenging year,” said Florencia Spangaro, Chief Operating Officer, Citi Foundation. “We are proud to join NFTE and its partners in congratulating this year’s winners and thank our Citi volunteers ac ross the country who served as classroom advisors, business plan coaches and mentors.”
In keeping with the importance NFTE places on volunteers from the business community, The Alper Family Foundation presented two awards for outstanding volunteer service. Gary Polk, Entrepreneurship Professor, California State University Dominguez Hills, was named Individual Volunteer of the Year. PayPal was named Corporate Volunteer of the Year.
- For the past three years, Polk has volunteered as a guest speaker, business coach, and competition judge for NFTE LA Metro. He coordinates NFTE’s involvement in the annual Transform LA at California State University Dominguez Hills, which hosts over 100 students from local high schools and business volunteers from the CSUDH Innovation Incubator.
- PayPal has been an extraordinary partner to NFTE, mobilizing more than 400 PayPal team members as volunteer business coaches and advisors for NFTE's young entrepreneurs and hosting field trips to PayPal offices, helping students to work on refining their business plans and pitches as well as to network and learn about careers.
“By focusing on expanding skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration, and self-reliance, NFTE is helping students prepare for future success.,” said Michael J. Kacsmar, Partner at EY and Chair of NFTE’s Board of Directors. “We believe it's essential that the next generation develop the entrepreneurial mindset to stand out in a competitive workforce and succeed in a variety of industries and settings. As such, EY is proud to support NFTE, the National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge and the talented young entrepreneurs who competed.”
On October 23, the winner and runners up in the 2020 National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge were also recognized at the 2020 Inc. 5000 Vision Conference & Awards Gala.
Photos and detailed biographies are available on request for all the National Challenge competitors, along with information on the winning businesses.
Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) is a global nonprofit that activates the entrepreneurial mindset and builds startup skills in young people from under-resourced communities. Reaching more than 100,000 middle and high school students annually, NFTE works with schools and community partners in 25 U.S. states and 10 countries around the world. Leveraging classroom teachers and volunteers from top-tier companies, NFTE’s research-based model teaches students how to identify a business opportunity and launch a business; helps them learn about the range of jobs and occupations available to them; and develops their “entrepreneurial mindset” — a set of skills including creativity, adaptability, communication, and collaboration that leads to success in any career. Since 1987, NFTE has educated 1.2 million young people worldwide, helping thousands launch businesses and companies of all sizes. Learn more at nfte.com.
About Citi Foundation
The Citi Foundation works to promote economic progress and improve the lives of people in low-income communities around the world. We invest in efforts that increase financial inclusion, catalyze job opportunities for youth, and reimagine approaches to building economically vibrant cities. The Citi Foundation's “More than Philanthropy” approach leverages the enormous expertise of Citi and its people to fulfill our mission and drive thought leadership and innovation. For more information, visit citifoundation.com.
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