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Friday, August 2, 2013

The Academy of Business Leadership

Last night, I watched over a dozen 13-18 year-old students from South Central, Los Angeles, and some from as far away as Uzbekistan and Turkey, present their own business plans to potential investors.

Yes, you read that correctly. These budding entrepreneurs have not even graduated from high school!

The program is the brainchild of my good friend, Anna Ouroumian, who came from extremely humble beginnings in Lebanon. She was dropped off at an orphanage in Beirut at the age of three, and was raised by nuns. She moved alone to the United States when she was 16, and vowed to give back and help as many young people achieve their dreams as she possibly could. Since then, Anna has revitalized the Academy of Business Leadership, a non-profit organization. You can read her inspiring story here.

Anna Ouroumian

A few months ago, Anna and I were having lunch and she asked me if I wanted to be a judge at her annual business plan competition in August. I was a judge about five years ago and loved the experience, so I immediately put it on my calendar.

The vision of the Academy of Business Leadership (ABL) is to “build a movement of fulfilled, prosperous, and transformational youth leaders NOW for long term sustainability of America, and the world.”

The mission of ABL is “to bring awareness, inspire, educate and expand the education and career goals for all youth, particularly high-potential, low-opportunity youth, through core values and practical and experiential education, with a focus on business, financial investments, entrepreneurial and social entrepreneurial training and transformational leadership development.”



The bottom line is, Anna’s program takes at risk kids, primarily from South Central in Los Angeles, and teaches them that capitalism can overcome almost any hardship. And she knows first hand, as she came to America with $160 in her pocket!

Anna with a group of kids from the program.

This year, the competition was held on the campus of USC in downtown Los Angeles. Amazingly, I have never toured the campus before and found it to be beautifully landscaped and regal. And, as I approached the “Town and Gown” building at 5:00pm, the buzz of energy was palpable.

I saw dozens of young people, dressed up in suits, ties, and high heels, with table top displays about their business idea.

At each table we walked up to, these teenagers would shake our hands, exchange business cards with us, and pitch their business idea. There were three finalist teams from the summer-long program, and we heard each of their pitches, with each team being comprised of three to four teenagers.

The three pitches were:

1. EMPWR, an online website platform for 15-25 year-old entrepreneurs to upload their business ideas to potential investors. Their focus: other young entrepreneurs.

2. EARphone, a “slave” phone that has the most popularly used apps (phone, music, contact list and timer) and wireless earphones, and is then linked to your regular smart phone. This is useful for when you go to the gym, or for a run, so you don’t have to take your smart phone with you.

3. ScholarApp, built on the concept of a “Common Application” that has been developed for colleges. However, this team created a business plan to launch an online system for a Common Scholarship Application, to help students apply for college scholarships.

After all of the presentations were given, there was confidential voting and a discussion amongst the judges in a room afterwards. I was joined by 21 other senior executives from venture capitalist companies, fashion designers, movie producers, universities and banks.

The recognition of the winning team was very highly regarded.

As my guests, I brought two of Frieda’s youngest, newest employees, who both work on our Innovation Team.

Their comments during our drive home summed up our experience: “I was blown away by the level of poise and business acumen those teenagers had. Their presentations were of the same, or better, quality as our business plan presentations that we made during our senior year of college!”

Pretty amazing, huh?

Karen

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