By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Noah Smith is off to Rochester, NY next week for the semi-finals of the national Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!). The event runs May 4-7.
The 16-year old sophomore at Campbell County High School was selected in February to represent the local area at the semi-final event, officially known as the Saunders Scholars Competition. The selection came from a panel of judges, including the Editor of teknovation.biz, who also awarded Smith’s Eco Rust start-up $1,000 during “Investor Pitch Night.” It was the largest investment made in any of the 12 teams that pitched their business ideas that night.
The Knoxville Chamber launched the local YEA! program last fall with 21 students participating. It runs throughout the academic year and is designed to teach middle and high school students how to start and run their own businesses.
“YEA! sealed the deal of starting my own business,” Smith says.
As an eighth grader, he won the Southern Appalachian Science and Engineering Fair (SASEF) with the technology that is now the basis for Eco Rust. He says the patent pending approach to inhibiting rust on any metal is based on an old wives’ tale. On the advice of legal counsel, Smith is not divulging more.
“It’s a trade secret that I can’t disclose,” he explains. This is an important lesson that the YEA! students have obviously learned.
SASEF started Smith’s three-year journey to launch his product, an all-natural and environmentally-friendly offering. The start-up says it will rust proof products and stop rust for up to two years after application.
Smith says the SASEF is “what inspired me into going forward.”
How does he feel about the national semi-finals and the opportunity to head to the finale in Washington, DC June 13?
“I’m nervous, but I feel pretty good about the competition,” Smith says. “People are looking for products that are all-natural, all organic, and environmentally-friendly.”
Meanwhile, he is laying plans to ramp-up production of Eco Rust, including introducing a gallon size. The product is currently only available in 16-ounce jars. Smith also is working to add retail outlets to what is currently a mail order only sales process.
For the Knoxville Chamber, the first year of YEA! has more than exceeded its expectations.
“We have no doubt Noah is going to represent Knoxville very well at the Saunders Semifinal Competition, and we think he has a great chance of advancing to the finals event in Washington D.C. in June,” said Mark Field, Senior Vice President for the Knoxville Chamber. “What has happened with Noah over the last 30 weeks is a testament to the YEA! program. He had a viable idea, but he needed to learn more about the intricacies of doing business. Now that he has a solid business foundation, he has the ability to become a successful small business owner.”