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Business Is Blooming At The Young Entrepreneurs Academy In Okaloosa County

Abby Freeman


  Participants in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy in Okaloosa County have spent the past several months learning what it takes to start a business. The program concludes Monday night when the final 7 students present their ideas to potential local investors. WUWF’s Danielle Freeman has this preview.

Originating in Rochester, New York, The Young Entrepreneurs Academy is in its second year in Okaloosa County and is sponsored by the FWB Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the Destin Chamber as well as other community groups.

Ted Corcoran is the President and CEO of The Greater Ft. Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce. Corcoran first heard about the YEA approximately 5 years ago at a state conference for chambers and believes it’s a wonderful opportunity for middle and high school students who participate, “It is spectacular. We in the community have always talked about having a proving ground and educational training session for the next generation, we didn’t have one and this is a perfect scenario. The Chamber is in charge of promoting business and now what we’re doing is help grooming the next generation (high school kids) for business and hopefully they’ll stay in our community too.”

The YEA has been around for ten years nationally and is currently in about 40 states. Okaloosa County is only 1 of 5 counties in the state of Florida that participates including The Greater Pensacola program for students in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, which concluded in March, “I love working with students especially middle and high school students because it’s such a cool age. And so, when they approached me about assisting Ms. Barbara Britt with the project I was really excited about it.” 

Chris Loffler-Toy In The Box

  That’s Kate Scanlan, the Coordinator for the Costa Leadership Institute at Northwest Florida State College, and this is her first year as a mentor for the Okaloosa YEA. Scanlan says Costa Leadership is a nice fit with the program because it’s tied to the academic community. But, her favorite part is seeing the participants bloom, “I’m kind of blown away. If you had seen some of these students on night one, they wouldn’t project their voices, there was not a whole lot of eye contact. Basically this was the first time they’d been put in a professional public speaking situation of any sort. And, to see them go from that to this point where they’re on stage with these nicely crafted presentations, in business dress, making eye contact, having appropriate hand gestures, it’s just warms my heart.”

The seven finalists will get to show off the progress they’ve made tonight when they make their final Power Point presentations before a panel of potential investors in a “Shark Tank” format of sorts.

The youngest participant in the Academy is an 8th grader at the STEMM Academy. His business plan is to make vacationing on the Gulf Coast more relaxing by renting and delivering beach toys to those staying in Destin, “My name is Chris Loffler and I’ve grown up on the Gulf Coast for 12 years and it gave me an idea for a very unique business opportunity that I call “Toy in the Box.” Our business is a company that rents out popular beach toys to tourists during the duration of their stay.”

Loffler and the remaining contestants have spent the week making final preparations for their presentations, including a dress rehearsal last week.

Another enterprising young entrepreneur is Ashley Pellerin, a senior at FWB High School. Pellerin’s business concept is to become a virtual art broker with her company Southern Arts Studios, “Southern Arts Studio” is an online gallery where new and upcoming artists can easily post and sell their pieces. The website will provide a page for each individual artist. When a customer is interested in buying a piece they will simply add it to their online cart and it will be delivered personally by the artists themselves.”

Ashley Pellerin-Southern Arts Studios

The principal instructor for the YEA is Barbara Britt, a former Leadership teacher at FWB High School. Britt says she’s extremely proud of the student’s hard work and dedication to the program, “I love seeing what students can do. I really realized from teaching Leadership that there was no boundary on what they can accomplish. And really watch our kids develop and grow and have the ability to work their way through college with the programs they’ve started.”

Each student’s business model is unique, as a result some students are asking for a couple hundred dollars to be invested while others are seeking a thousand or more.

The six potential investors include health care executives, retail vendors, and a partner at a local law firm.

The presentations will be held at 5:30pm at the Northwest Florida State/UWF Emerald Coast joint campus auditorium and are open to the public.

Young Entrepreneurs Academy Emerald Coast Graduates

Savannah Bartleson, Smiles by Savvy, 11th Grade, Seacoast Collegiate High School

Huston Locht, StorageCat

9th Grade, Choctawhatchee High School

Christopher Loffler, Toy in the Box

8th Grade, STEM Academy

Peter Masone, The Hall Mall

10th Grade, Niceville High School

Ashley Pellerin, Southern Arts Studios

12th Grade, Fort Walton Beach High School

Baili Pettet, Simply Baili

9th Grade, Choctawhatchee High School

Olivia Rose Talley, Olivia Talley Cosmetics

11th Grade, Choctawhatchee High School


• Barbara Britt, Costa Leadership Institute

• Lynn Dominique, Revive Media Services Inc.

• Beth Hanning, Doolittle Institute

• Esther Lynn Hemphill, Doolittle Institute

• Jon Hemphill, Air Force Research Laboratories

• Joe Nelson, Nelson Financial Solutions

• Kate Scanlan, Costa Leadership Institute

• Gary Westfal, Westfal Publishing & Graphics, LLC

Investor Panel

Alan Gieseman, CEO White Wilson Medical Center

Mitch Mongell, CEO Fort Walton Beach Medical Center

DC Mickle-Bee, Owner PMI

Simona Faroni, Owner G.S. Gelato & Desserts, Inc

David Costa, Owner/Operator Costa Enterprises/McDonalds

Amy Perry, Partner Pleat, Perry & Ritchie, P.A.

Olen Holsten, Club Manager Sam’s Club