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Two local students have received funding to start their own businesses through the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy. 

Homeschool student Emily Butler and Hanceville High School’s Kerry Silvers both earned seed money to start their businesses during this year’s YEA! Investor Panel.

The Young Entrepreneurs Academy is in its third year at the chamber, and offers local high school students a chance to learn the ins and outs of running a small business while competing for seed funding from a panel of local investors. 

YEA! Program Manager Wesley Smith presented this year’s winners in a video presentation, and said he always looks forward to getting to know the students and working with them to develop their business.

“It’s always very impressive to see high school age students who are driven to learn more about the business world and how to start their own business,” he said. 

Butler, a homeschool student through the Trinitas Classical Academy, earned startup funding after she presented the investors with a retail and social movement called More than the Reel.

More than the Reel is a more-than-profit retail business and social movement that will donate part of its profits to the Jed Foundation, which is a nonprofit that protects emotional health and prevents suicide among teens and young adults. 

“Emily is passionate about the message she conveys through More than the Reel,” Smith said. “The fact that she wants to donate part of her profits to a nonprofit organization that she believes in speaks volumes about the young lady that she is.”

Butler asked the investor panel for a $1,063 investment in her business, and the panel elected to give her $1,400 to help it get started. 

She also received the opportunity to represent the YEA! Cullman chapter at the Saunders Scholars National Semifinal in Rochester, New York, which will give her the chance to pitch her business against other regional winners from across the country in a bid to earn even more startup funding and scholarships.

“We have no doubt you will represent us very well in New York,” Smith said. 

Silvers, a student at Hanceville High School, also received seed funding after presenting her plan for the Bykery Bakery, which is a mobile food vendor offering baked goods from a bicycle, and her baked goods have received rave reviews from her fellow students and Smith himself. 

“While letting her classmates sample some of her pastries, Kerry once received a 100 out of 10 review by one Hanceville student,” he said. “I have personally tried the bakery’s pastries and I wholeheartedly agree with this review.”

Silvers asked for $962 from the investor panel to help get her business started, and the panel elected to give her that and more. She received $1,100 from the panel, along with a $500 scholarship to Wallace State Community College provided by the Wallace State Future Foundation.

Smith said this year’s program had 12 very smart and driven students who met once per month from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for classes or field trips that offered different lessons centered around business startup.

All of those classes typically culminate in the investor panel event, which has the students pitch their business ideas to the investor panel in a style to the TV show “Shark Tank” for a chance to win real seed money or prize packages to help get their business off the ground.

Smith said this year’s investor panel had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the top two businesses videoed their presentation that they would have given to the panel in person, and the panel’s members reviewed them to make their decision. 

“We knew that our students had worked too hard on their businesses to just call it a year,” he said.

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