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Aspiring US Student Entrepreneurs Get Help Starting Businesses

The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship helps youngsters from low-income communities to build skills and unlock their entrepreneurial talent. In San Francisco, VOA's Mike O'Sullivan spoke with aspiring entrepreneurs who took part in a competition to prepare a business plan.

High school student Vivian Chau, like most Asian American youngsters, loves a drink called boba, a sweet milk tea with jellied tapioca balls. Boba can be found in cafes around San Francisco, but Vivian says it is not sold in supermarkets. So she came up with the idea of a company called Jelly It! to make a ready-to drink bottled tea mixed with jelly. She admits the idea is a gamble.

"Because I have talked to a lot of cultures, different people from different cultures, and they said they do not know what this jelly is, and they are kind of scared and hesitant to taste it. So hopefully, people will be willing to try something new, and once they try it, hopefully they will like it," she said.

Chau was a finalist in a recent competition in which students prepared plans for actual businesses.

Finalist Ugo Ugamba makes flashy fitted caps - baseball caps with flashing logos powered by batteries. He says he also places flashing logos on people's own hats.

"So you can bring in your own cap, and I will customize and I will put lights inside and you will have a flashy fitted cap of your own choice in hats," he said.

The competition winner, high-school student Huong Cheng, plans to create a company that will send volunteers from school clubs to help retirees. The students will take the senior citizens for a stroll, read them a book or help them with shopping.

The retirees will pay a small fee to the visiting students, and school clubs and Cheng's company will share the fees. She got the idea when she visited a retirement home. "And it did not seem like there are many volunteers there all the time. And I have noticed that all the clubs at my school, they are always fundraising. So I tried to connect the two, and I thought of this service business," she said.

The contest was sponsored by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship and the financial firm Merrill Lynch. Financial advisor Neville Richardson worked with the students on their business plans, and was impressed with their enthusiasm and talent.

"These kids are amazing. Whatever you teach them, they will learn. If you expose them to the right things, they will carry it as far as you help them carry it. We have custom guitar makers. We had custom golf club makers. We had so many different ideas - dance studios - so many different ideas that they are already actually operating on some level," she said.

The National Association for Teaching Entrepreneurship helps teachers convey the skills that students need to start a business. The foundation's executive director for the San Francisco Bay area, Gerald Richards, says the program also helps the youngsters academically.

"We have realized that through entrepreneurship education, it is engaging students in their education, so they are learning about math. They have to do the business plan. They have to do the economics of one unit, so they are learning about math. They have to write a business plan, so they are using their writing skills, but they are also using their presentation skills. Therefore, I think we are realizing, and schools are realizing, that this is a great way to engage students," he said.

Neville Richardson of Merrill Lynch says there are challenges in business, as these students have learned in preparing their business plans.

"Some people want to do food services. They want to cook. They think they can do it out of their home, and we try to explain to them, you might have to rent some space in a commercial kitchen and you will have to have insurance. So we present all the possible scenarios for business, and we also present - what if you get a tremendous demand for your product? How will you handle that? How will you service that need?," he said.

He says the students hone their problem-solving skills as they come up with a detailed plan for a product or service.