ACCESS students face ‘sharks’ in entrepreneurial pitch competition

Two students from the Orange County Department of Education’s alternative education program each won up to a $5,000 loan after pitching their business ideas in a youth entrepreneur competition modeled after the ABC show “Shark Tank.”

Victor Valenzuela, a senior in Fountain Valley, and Josie Colbertson, a senior in Costa Mesa, both participated this spring in the 12-week Youth Entrepreneur Training Academy, a collaborative between OCDE’s Alternative, Community, and Correctional Education School and Services (ACCESS), and COR Community Development Corporation.

Student Josie Colbertson pitches her business idea during a competition
Senior Josie Colbertson pitches her business idea to a panel of judges as part of the Youth Entrepreneur Training Academy.

The program consisted of academic instruction in basic business education, financial literacy and business idea development. In addition, guest speakers included attorneys, bankers, artists, college counselors and real estate brokers.

The program culminated last month with a “Pitch Competition,” where students used the skills they learned to hawk their business ideas to a panel in the hope of receiving a micro-loan to help launch their enterprises.

Out of the 11 contestants, eight were ACCESS students, including the two who each won up to $5,000. (The final amounts will depend on their business start-up costs.)

Valenzuela, mentored by teacher Julie Ames, received the highest score of all the contestants for his “Stachaway” invention, a lanyard with an attached enclosure device for keeping money, keys and other small valuables safe.

Student Victor Valenzuela pitches his business idea at a podium
Victor Valenzuela pitches his business idea for a lanyard to carry valuables.

Colbertson, mentored by teacher Peggy McIntosh, won over judges with her “Can you hear me now?” non-profit proposal, a program which would assist the deaf and hard of hearing with social events and dance lessons.

Each student pitched business ideas to the panel of judges, which included Teri Decker, senior vice president and head of Southern California branches of One West Bank; Everett Sands, CEO of Lendiatry Corp.; and Martha Daniel, CEO of Information Management Resources Inc. Students stood before the judges and articulated their business ideas before requesting the financial support. The judges offered critiques and asked tough questions.

Besides learning about business and entrepreneurship, the goal of the program was also to help students overcome their fear of public speaking.