On March 28, local middle and high school students competed in an event to throw their best pitches – but not with baseballs and softballs, and there was no field. These young business leaders met at Google Headquarters in Bakery Square and presented their hopes and dreams to a panel of 11 business leaders.

The event, iPitch 2015, hosted by Entrepreneuring Youth, was the culminating competition for students – many from economically-fragile communities – who are part of the nonprofit’s program that teaches students to think and act like business leaders.

Sponsored by NextTier Bank and the Pittsburgh Technology Council, the iPitch competition welcomed 27 students representing 20 different business ideas from Beaver County Youth Entrepreneurship Collaborative, Brownsville Area School District, Entrepreneuring Youth’s Hilltop E-Center, Manchester Academic Charter School and Urban Pathways Charter School.

“A lot of these young people are from neighborhoods that are not blessed with the resources to have an old fashioned lemonade stand, things like going to the store to buy supplies and making fliers” says Jerry Cozewith, president and co-founder of Entrepreneuring Youth.

Through its own E-Centers or by partnering with schools and community organizations, Entrepreneuring Youth guides students through a four-plus year curriculum to acquire business knowledge, gain access to mentors and use events like the iPitch competition to practice their skills.

“Building a new generation of entrepreneurs is vital to our economy and to our communities,” says Rich Krauland, CEO and president of NexTier Bank and one of the judges.

The judges scored the two-minute pitches based on customer benefits, service features, points made and presentation skills. Cash prizes were awarded to first, second and third places in two divisions.

“It’s very challenging for any person to stand in front of a large crowd and pitch their ideas confidently, says Cozewith. “It’s a great moment to watch them stand up in front of strangers and family.”

And the ideas were pretty innovative.

Take for example Caleb Kirkland and Maddison Angelone, two seniors from Brownsville High School who are making and selling cannolis which are “unbelievably high in demand.” They already have a written agreement with a local restaurant who is selling them, says Cozewith.

“These youngsters are not looking for a minimum wage job. They are very serious–minded when it comes to their business,” he notes.

But the Entrepreneuring Youth program is much more than just making money, says Cozewith.

“They are learning how to make eye contact and shake hands. They are picking up marketable skills to become a great employee,” he says.

Those hitting home runs in the High School Division included Grayden Sabol, founder of  Footmark Tracking- a company that uses sound technology to find missing arrows; Nariah White, founder of Nariah’s Fabulous Jewelz; Caleb Kirkland & Maddison Angelone, co-founders of Holy Cannoli.

Middle School Division winners included Cheyenne Rhone, founder of Hopes for the Best Survival Bracelets; Sanaa Morris, founder of Smore Cookies; De’Andre Gordon, founder of Phoenix Classic Designs, maker of custom T-shirts.

Right now, Cozewith and his team are also working to create programs in Wilkinsburg and with the Oakland Community Development Corporation to be up and running this summer.

“The purpose of entrepreneurship is seeing opportunities and realizing you can go after them. There are risks, and you have to be careful, but there are adults these youth can turn to,” says Cozewith. “It’s also about how to build a personal network of support.”

Laurie Bailey

Laurie Bailey is a freelance writer who has reported for many local publications. When she isn't writing she serves as a media consultant for nonprofits and other local companies.