Horizon Center’s EntreEagles program concludes with middle and high school students pitching to a panel of judges

“This article is part of a “Spirit of Collaboration” series highlighting successful collaborative efforts between CareerSource North Central Florida and the business community.”

The entrepreneurial spirit continues to thrive in Gainesville, impacting people of all ages – from degree-holding, displaced professionals to high school and middle school students. Horizon Center Alternative School recently held a mock Shark Tank experience, where middle and high school students in the EntreEagles program pitched their simulated businesses to a three-person judging panel.

After pitch presentations, Horizon Center middle school students pose with judges and Rachel Stimler, program director at The Education Foundation of Alachua County. (Back row [left to right]: third – Byron Young) (Front row [left to right]: first – Shareen Baptiste, fourth – Rachel Stimler, and last- Ian Fletcher)
After pitch presentations, Horizon Center middle school students pose with judges and Rachel Stimler, program director at The Education Foundation of Alachua County. (Back row [left to right]: third – Byron Young) (Front row [left to right]: first – Shareen Baptiste, fourth – Rachel Stimler, and last- Ian Fletcher)

CareerSource North Central Florida, Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, the Education Foundation of Alachua County, Plum Creek and local businesses collaborated with Horizon Center Alternative School to host informative events, fund educational programs and expose the students to new technology and community resources.

EntreEagles is a six-week entrepreneurship training program, which focused on career-technical education. On May 21, judges heard from students with aspirations of starting a freeze cup shop, jewelry-line constructed of rubber bands, “green” lawn care services and an all-inclusive restaurant – featuring a wing shop, movie theatre and child care services.

The judging panel consisted of:

  • Byron Young, President of Corda-Roy’s Beanbags. He has owned the company for 16 years since first offering his product at a kiosk in The Oaks Mall. Byron Young and his business were featured on Shark Tank, which helped his business grow nationally. The Shark Tank episode aired in March of 2013 (season 4, episode 19)
  • Ian Fletcher is vice president of workforce development with the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce (GACC) and CareerSource North Central Florida (CSNCFL). He works with local businesses to support their hiring, growth and retention efforts.
  • Shareen Baptiste, an expectant graduate in the Master’s of Science in Entrepreneurship program at the University of Florida, works directly with the business community in her position as the Communications/Project Manager at GACC and CSNCFL.

The Education Foundation of Alachua County funded EntreEagles. In December 2013, the Foundation awarded the school a “Catalyst for Change” grant, in the amount of $3,548. This grant finances innovative teaching practices that focus on career and technical education, STEM education, literacy and graduation rate increases and more.

The entrepreneurship training program featured trips to the Cade Museum, Innovation Hub, RTI Surgical, Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator, and more. It included after school business sessions utilizing Junior Achievement curriculum and two installments of Career Day, where students heard from more than 15 business representatives in various industries about available career opportunities.

“Aligning education and job training to future employment opportunities is critical for today’s students. Ensuring that all of our students have the tools necessary for future jobs is important as well,” states Rose Fagler, community relations manager at Plum Creek.

This March, Plum Creek awarded Horizon Center a grant in the amount of $5,000 providing the students with access to new technology and training, such as five chrome tablets, an eInstruction Smart Response System, and an online Alternative Behavior program.

“Plum Creek is honored to be a part of this effort,” says Fagler. “This collaborative education partnership is a model for encouraging future entrepreneurs and supports the small business environment necessary for a healthy community, while also addressing the opportunity-access gap in our area.”

Dr. Anntwanique Edwards, assistant principal at Horizon Center Alternative School, recognizes that many students at Horizon Center are not traditional learners. With a background in mental health counseling and school/ guidance counseling for secondary populations, Edwards immediately noted the students’ needs and worked with faculty to address those needs.

“Horizon recognizes the importance of having our students succeed and become viable members of the local workforce,” states Edwards. “The goal is to minimize unemployment rates and other negative trends associated with joblessness.”

Judges and Rachel Stimler pose with Horizon Center high school students after pitch presentations.
Judges and Rachel Stimler pose with Horizon Center high school students after pitch presentations.