Clay High School junior Jimmy Kouzios gently tapped his finger on the table.
Washington High School senior Angelette Wells sat nervously tapping her foot.
Meanwhile, Ashley Hackworth, a Clay junior, sat attentively listening but quietly chewing gum.
The prestigious setting of a conference room in the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame only added to their tension as judges, mentors and family members looked on. Such was the scene as five South Bend high school students competed for $1,000 in cash at the fifth annual Notre Dame Invention Convention Youth Business Plan Competition recently.
"I was really nervous," said Kouzios, whose business plan presentation on his proposed Kouzios Catering brought him third place and $200. "I was twitching the whole time, and my hands were sweaty. It was more nerve-racking than it looks."
But Kouzios delivered, as did the rest on their business plans for a proposed startup business of their own creation.
Each gave a PowerPoint presentation dealing with questions such as costs, profit, competitors, service and philanthropic effort to the community, followed by a question-and answer session with the panel of judges.
"The panel was easier than the presentation," said finalist KeiLara Kelley, a Clay High School junior, whose proposed business was "Kiddie Kare and Mommy's Hair," a child care service for women to use while they get their hair done. "The conversation calms me down, but when I am up there, I want to (try) a little harder."Winner Carmen Erickson, a Clay senior, took home $500 with her business plan on "Club Expression," a club for teenagers.
She came up with the idea, she said, because "basically, there's a lack of teenage activities in the South Bend area."
Her club's goal was to give teens activities to help keep them out of trouble, have fun and help the community.
"It really helped with my self-esteem," she said of the whole process, which included working at least two hours once a week at the Robinson Community Learning Center on the project for the past three months or so. "It was just something good for me that pushed me."Conducted by Notre Dame's Gigot Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and the Robinson Community Learning Center, students used a curriculum provided by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship.
Notre Dame undergraduate and MBA students served as mentors and judges, while earlier in the education process, members of SCORE (Service Corps Of Retired Executives) and KeyBank also helped the students.
The effort is all part of Notre Dame's Gigot Center's efforts to reach out to the community, Jessica McManus Warnell, program manager and concurrent instructor there, said.
"Our role is to get our business students in this service- and community-based learning," she said. "So they are putting their entrepreneurial skills they are learning in our Notre Dame classes to use and applying them to work with youth."
The Notre Dame students are already studying entrepreneurship, she noted. "So it helps them by letting them make real the concepts they are learning in class by teaching it to young people."Originally, about 20 South Bend Community School Corp. students started off in the program, with some dropping out. Five finalists were chosen for the competition, in which no actual school credit is given.
For Luther Tyson, associate director for technology programs and instructor at the Robinson
Community Learning Center, the results were pleasing.
"I am always nervous when the kids are up there, but I am very pleased with them because we spend a lot of time on presentation and speaking and thinking clearly," he said. "And they have come a long way, and they were just great today.
Once the presentation was over, that last word seemed to describe how the students felt. "It was a great experience for me," said Kouzios. "It helps me open my eyes and see what owning my own business (could be) and it really is possible to do what you can."
"It was actually kind of fun because I like doing presentations," said Hackworth, whose business plan for a business offering clothing for heavier women called "All About You" won her second place and $300.
Erickson said she definitely would recommend it to other students "because it kind of gives you a chance to know yourself a little better and what you can really do with your talents."