Teens step up to promote businesses at iPitch Competition

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Anyone who knew 10th-grader Shane Jones two years ago would have hardly recognized the 16-year-old on Saturday as he confidently introduced himself as owner of Shane's Bakery Service.

Shane came before a panel of five judges and a crowded roomful of people who watched local middle school and high school entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas and compete for cash prizes.

"When I first met Shane at Manchester Academic Charter School, his handshake had the consistency of water. He stared at his shoes. And when I asked him his name, I couldn't hear his answer," said Jerry Cozewith, president and co-founder of Entrepreneuring Youth, the organization sponsoring the iPitch Competition held at Google offices in Bakery Square.

The small business Shane started two years ago in his mother's kitchen in Observatory Hill baking cookies, cupcakes and brownies, which he sells to his old middle school when they have special events three or four times a year, has made a charismatic communicator out of a once painfully shy young man, said his former middle school teacher and mentor Dennis Henderson.

"He has always been intelligent," Mr. Henderson said. "Now he has the confidence in himself to show who he is and demonstrate his intelligence."

In a style made popular by the ABC-TV show "Shark Tank," the 18 aspiring youngsters in the competition aged 12 to 18 were given two minutes to explain their business to a panel of judges consisting of 10 local business leaders. The judges scored the presentations based on how well the young entrepreneurs made their points and also on their presentation skills.

The first-place winner in the ninth- to 12th-grade category was Urban Pathways Charter School 10th-grader Ahliah Thompson, 16, owner of Urban Couture, a custom clothing company that sells a product called "Hoodies for a Cause." She received a $200 first prize. The first-place winners in the fifth- to eighth-grade category were Manchester Academic Charter School eighth-graders Baubi Buggs and Domenique Ross, both 14, owners of B&D Lip Balm.

"The idea is that the winners will invest the contest winnings back into their business enterprises," said Jill Berardi, a spokeswoman for Entrepreneuring Youth. "The B&D Lip Balm winners indicated they would reinvest the money to enhance the packaging of their product."

Entrepreneuring Youth is a Downtown-based nonprofit that works with students who often come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The organization encourages them to think and act like business owners and confidently create their own opportunities, rather than wait for them to happen, said Mr. Cozewith.

"Our program gives them the opportunity to see themselves as a person who founds and owns a business," he said. "We think that's important because it helps them recognize there are more options for them in life."

Tim Grant: tgrant@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1591.

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