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Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs summer program culminates Aug. 1 with virtual Demo Day


The Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs’ (GSE) three-week summer program will culminate Aug. 1 with a first-ever virtual Demo Day.

From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., high school teams will pitch business ideas to a panel of judges to win cash prizes to continue their ventures. The GSE2020 professional business-pitch competition is open to the public with free registration at https://hopin.to/events/the-2020-governor-s-school-for-entrepreneurs-demo-day.

Gov. Andy Beshear

“I want to encourage everyone to support our entrepreneurs by watching Demo Day online Saturday,” said Gov. Andy Beshear. “This year, students learned about what it takes to launch a business idea during extraordinary times – a once in a 100-year pandemic. This is the world our students will be entering when they join the workforce, so GSE is an excellent incubator for Kentucky’s future movers and shakers. I commend each student on their GSE achievements.”

GSE, a partner of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet (EWDC), normally runs a three-week residential summer program at Northern Kentucky University. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, GSE started July 12 as a hybrid program, with small groups of students meeting twice a week in-person and three times a week online. A week after it started, GSE2020 switched to a completely virtual experience.

“As a teacher, I am so proud of how our entrepreneurs have rolled with the punches with such enthusiasm,” said Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman. “We keep saying that these are unprecedented times and that we don’t have a map to follow, but our young entrepreneurs are the ones who will blaze the path for our economy and give us a North Star to follow in the future, because of their current experiences. After going through GSE during the COVID-19 pandemic, they won’t be afraid to try and fail and get up and try again in the future.”

During GSE2020, 72 high school students from across Kentucky worked in 18 teams of four to develop a business model, design a prototype and pitch their startups to a panel of judges. The students were chosen from about 300 applicants. GSE teaches the opportunities, benefits and pitfalls of taking a business concept from the idea phase to pitching it to potential investors. The students gain valuable insight from leading innovators on how to take a business concept from the idea phase to making it a reality.

“COVID-19 has brought new challenges for all of us, but as entrepreneurs, we love challenges. We also know that entrepreneurs are needed now more than ever before,” said Natasha Sams, GSE’s executive director. “We have been working hard to rethink our approach and push boundaries on what is possible while keeping our students safe. We are so appreciative of our statewide partners who jumped at the idea to help us pivot and allow our entrepreneurs to work in small groups to enhance our sessions. I think we have developed a unique experience for all, and this nimble model represents a great example of the power of collaboration.”

The following innovation centers and maker-spaces from across the commonwealth worked with GSE students and advisors during GSE2020:

-Story – Louisville
-Awesome Inc. and Base 110 – Lexington
-Aviatra Accelerators, Blue North and Center for Great Neighborhoods – Covington
-Henderson Entrepreneur & Technology (HEAT) Lab – Henderson
-Sprocket – Paducah

“Aviatra has been honored to have been an active participant in the Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs the past couple of years,” said Aviatra Accelerators CEO Nancy Aichholz. “I am impressed with how quickly and nimbly the organization pivoted to give these best-of-the-best high school participants the opportunity to experience a taste of the startup world. I can’t wait to see the output on Demo Day.”

GSE is a relative newcomer on the list of Kentucky’s Governor’s Schools, having started with its first group of students in 2013. Since then, GSE has given more than 400 talented teens the entrepreneurial experience of a lifetime. Since 2013, 10 new businesses have been launched by GSE entrepreneurs. Others have filed for multiple patents and developed new ideas and relationships that sow the seeds for more business formation.

“We’re living through highly unusual times, but like any strong, resilient organization we see this as both an opportunity and a welcomed challenge,” said Koleman Karleski, GSE board chair. “If there were ever a program designed to adapt to change through innovation, it is the Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs.”

GSE2020 was made possible because of strong partnerships with entities like the EWDC, the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development and numerous public and private supporters, like Toyota (TMMK), the Marksbury Family Foundation and the Parker Family Fund. GSE is free for selected entrepreneurs. Alumni of GSE gain access to a host of scholarship opportunities, totaling more than $2.7 million each year, to colleges and universities in Kentucky.

“When I found out GSE was going to be virtual, I couldn’t have been more upset. My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to meet anyone and it would feel like I’m sitting at my computer all day long. Oh, how I was wrong,” said GSE participant and Edgewood resident Paige Neuhaus, a student at Notre Dame Academy in Park Hills. “The first few days we were all somewhat shy, since we were just names behind a computer screen, but then we connected through team time and chatted with each other through social media. By the end of just the first week, I felt like I had 71 new best friends who I hadn’t even met yet.

“Every morning when I logged in, I felt like I wasn’t just sitting behind a computer screen. I felt like I was entering a new world of positivity, hope and opportunity. This was something I thought I could never feel, especially during these times. However, GSE has made it possible.”

From Education and Workforce Development Cabinet

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