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Young entrepreneurs pitch business ideas at Norfolk competition

Mackenzie Hansen decided to try to start her own clothing line after always having trouble finding clothes that made her feel comfortable. While this may be an issue for many, 13-year-old Hansen of Chesapeake especially has difficulty because of her autism and sensory processing disorder.

Her proposed clothing line called Clothes For Me is designed for young girls like her who are bothered by clothes that have high necklines, are too tight or too short.

She was one of six youth and adults who pitched their business idea to a panel of judges with the hopes of receiving assistance in getting their businesses off the ground. The Big Deal competition at Slover Library in Norfolk on Aug. 12 was based on the TV show “Shark Tank” where business owners pitch their products to several investors in hopes they can strike a deal to help their product move further into the market.

Although the stakes were a bit lower than on the reality show, the competitors, who had taken part in the library’s Young Entrepreneur’s Society program, had worked on refining their business ideas throughout the summer before presenting them to several judges.

Judges gave presenters feedback and advice on better approaches to certain aspects of their business or about what still needed to be refined in their business plan.

Hansen said she wants to eventually open a clothing store aimed at providing comfortable and stylish, custom-made clothing for people with disorders.

“It’s really hard for me to find good clothes that don’t have the clothing high at the neck, aren’t tight around the arms, or aren’t too tight,” she said, adding some material can be irritating to her skin.

Hansen would also like to employ other people with disabilities. And she’s considering trying to partner with another competitor, Precious Smith, who has cerebral palsy.

Smith, 22, of Chesapeake pitched her own idea for a jewelry line called Buttah Flyy Creations.

Other competitors included 13-year-old Naysha Ahmad of Virginia Beach who pitched a bakery called Naysha Cakes; 26-year-old Brittney Pindell of Virginia Beach proposed an eco-friendly, late-night coworking space called E-Co Owl; 26-year-old Felicia Davis of Virginia Beach had an idea for a mobile salon and space service called Driven Wisdom Spa; and 25-year-old Jeneva Parham of Norfolk pitched a child care service called Lil Cub Adventure Care.

Each of the competitors had 5-7 minutes to pitch and 10 minutes to answer questions. After all the competitors had presented, judges consulted together and decided on prizes. These included small monetary awards, three months of online business training with Hatch, sewing classes, communication and presentation skills training, mentoring services, access to 757 Makerspace, potential internship opportunities and help with refining presentations.

In addition, Pindell was offered a potential internship opportunity through 757 Makerspace, Hansen was awarded two sewing classes and Smith’s jewelry will be sold in the ODU retail store for entrepreneurs.

Liz Powell, a reference librarian and organizer of the event for the library, also awarded each contestant with supplies worth $75 through a grant received for the library’s Thinking Money exhibition.

Davis said she was especially happy with her prizes: mentoring services and funds for mobile display cases for her salon supplies.

“Being here helped me see it (the business plan) and put it on paper, and look at what my clients need and want,” she said. “The program has been inspirational.”

Although Davis wants to provide a mobile service, she doesn’t yet have a car and said she’s trying to save money to buy one. So she was grateful for any little bit that could help her with a business, she said.

“All the money goes to the bills and $75 for mobile cases was a lot more than I had in mind,” she said.

Powell said the event was different from normal competitions of its type in that all the participants went home with several awards.

“It’s kind of casual. This is more of a philanthropic effort than it is a competitive competition. This is more kind of like to aid them to continue on with this …” she said. “We’ve been getting a lot of participation and great feedback. The kids have been enjoying it and the parents have been really happy to see their kids involved in this. They’re pitching business ideas but they’re also learning personal financial skills along the way.”

The judges for the competition were Karen Lindquist, founder and owner of Linden Tree Learning; Nancy Grden, director of ODU’s Strome Entrepreneurial Center; Zack Miller, founder of Hatch; and Beau Turner, CEO and creative director of 757 Makerspace.

Story from Inside Business

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