NFTE finalists Nate Wheadon, Jasmine Adams and Clifton Jackson
On Thursday, October 12, I had the opportunity to co-host the NFTE National Entrepreneurship Challenge, presented by the Citi Foundation, which brought together 41 NFTE students from across the country to share their business ideas and compete for a total of $35,000 in startup capital.
As a proud NFTE alum, I'm no stranger to these competitions, but I walk away inspired every time. This year was no exception. I was especially energized coming off the heels of my summer as a NFTE Citi Foundation Entrepreneurship Fellow, where I did something I've always wanted to do: give back to NFTE, a program that has given so much to me. Through support from the Citi Foundation, I had a paid internship at the NFTE New England office to mentor students and help with programming. It was an honor to step on a stage much like the one I competed on seven years ago, to announce this year's finalists to hundreds of guests, including entrepreneurs, proud parents, volunteers, business executives, and, of course, my NFTE family.
Before the National Challenge began, I spoke with final round judge John Froese, Head of Program and Partner Management at Citi FinTech, to find out what it takes to get his vote. "Passion," he answered. "People who work hard and are willing to put passion into it will often beat those with a better idea." John was spot on. There was certainly no shortage of passion that night—NFTE students lit up the room.
Take Jasmine Adams, for instance. I could feel genuine excitement from the 18-year-old founder of Smudgies, when I asked her about her winning idea—small, reusable makeup remover cloths that require no water or cleanser. "It's still sinking in. I am just grateful. I've had so much support—the mentors and the networking have been very helpful."National Challenge winner Jasmine Adams with Citi FinTech's John Froese and NFTE alum Khaled Khalifa
Runner-up Nate Wheadon, founder of Fudged UP!, a healthier (and tastier!) alternative to traditional chocolate spreads, altered a family recipe to come up with some exciting new flavors. "I had a ton of help, and that's definitely why I'm here today," observed the 18-year-old entrepreneur. The other runner-up, Clifton Jackson, a 17-year-old apprentice electrician, created a patent-pending tool that can carry out the work of three others, making it a time-efficient alternative. Even though he didn't win first place, he described the Challenge as "a great experience." Both Nate and Clifton pitched their ideas with confidence, which made it a tough choice for the judges.
Those were just the three businesses that made it on to the final round. There were numerous impressive ideas pitched throughout the day, with Citi volunteers serving as judges and providing thoughtful feedback. John Froese at Citi FinTech shared his advice to the students who didn't take home the grand prize:
"Many great entrepreneurs had their first idea fail," he said. "It's [about] learning from that failure, picking yourself up and getting back to work. You have to learn from your failures and work that much harder."
Having an entrepreneurial mindset goes beyond owning and running a business; it's about how we respond to everyday challenges – in the classroom and beyond. This is the essence of the NFTE experience and has been my biggest takeaway. I'm eternally grateful for having been taught perseverance from such a young age. Seven years later, I still carry this life lesson with me and I know all 41 National Challenge participants will do the same.
The Citi Foundation's support for NFTE is a part of Pathways to Progress, a $100 million investment to connect 500,000 young people around the world to training and jobs over the next three years. To learn more, visit citifoundation.com.