Business as usual for young South Bay entrepreneurs, despite pandemic

Participating by Zoom in the 2021 Manhattan Beach Chamber YEA ‘shark tank’ competition last Wednesday were (top row) Nika Elwell, program manager Nellie Ambrose, instructor Rachel Thomas, Alice Jiang, and Chamber CEO Kelly Stroman(chamber CEO). (Second row) YEA supporter Ro Schreiner, Aiden Schipper, Reese Murphy, Braden Martin, Hayden Whatley, and Ashna Patel. (Third row) Eliana Laforet, Hunter Williams, Luka Zaric, Sloane Roth, and Katherine Jester. (Bottom row) Aiden Murphy,, Chloe Thomas, Avery Roth, and Tillman Cummings.

by Jake Safane

Since October, 17 local students have been getting together over Zoom to formulate startups through their participation in the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce’s chapter of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA).

Now, their ideas are on the verge of becoming 12 full-fledged businesses,  ranging from desserts to beach leisure to haircare.

The students got their first real taste of pitching to investors on March 31, when they,  virtually, went face-to-face with community and business leaders in a Shark Tank style competition. 

Thanks to local sponsors (Bales Family Foundation, Chevron, Fusion Academy, Kinecta Federal Credit Union, Manhattan Beach Toyota, Manhattan Beach Rotary, and MBS Media Campus), each business ended up receiving some financial support. 

Hunter Williams, a 16-year-old junior at Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance, won the right to represent the group at the 13th Annual Saunders Scholars Competition, YEA’s national contest. At this competition, which will take place virtually in June, chapter winners from across the country will square off to pitch their businesses in the hopes of winning over $80,000 in cash and scholarships to the Saunders College of Business at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Williams will be pitching his business Brushed, an e-commerce marketplace for haircare products, focused on people with waves, a hairstyle popular for those with curly hair. 

“It will carry products from brands both big and small, eventually becoming the one-stop shop for those who subscribe to the hairstyle,” explains Williams. “Products will include brushes, pomades, oils, and nightwear such as durags.”

Williams has ambitious plans for Brushed. 

“The company aims to have a website within the month and sales before the end of May. We aim to build a strong social media presence and a mobile app within the year,” he says.

As the next phase of the local YEA program, Williams and the other students will be filing DBAs (fictitious name statements) in the coming days, which will enable them to operate under their business names.

“From there they can begin to market their product or service. Over the years we have had many students successfully operate their businesses long term. Some have gotten their product into local shops, some have sold online and some you will see yearly at the Manhattan Beach Hometown Fair,” explains Nellie Ambrose, program manager for the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce’s YEA chapter.

Ambrose notes that many YEA alumni have drawn on their experiences to start new businesses later on. The skills learned over the course of the 30-week program, which included support from over 50 volunteers in the community, range from conducting market research to putting together a business plan.

“These lessons allowed me to lay the groundwork for what’s shaping up to be a viable startup,” says Williams.

Williams will be representing the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce chapter of YEA at Saunders on June 26, 2021. The competition will be livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube. For more information, visit ER


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Written by: Jake Safane

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