Greater LA Students Split $3000 in Business Pitch Competition

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NFTE Los Angeles Metro Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge winners advance to national championship in September

In the current uncertain climate, young people are realizing more than ever that entrepreneurship offers an opportunity for personal empowerment. - Dr. J.D. LaRock, President and CEO, NFTE

Schools may be closed, but that didn’t stop these highly motivated young entrepreneurs from refining their business plans and preparing their pitches for the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) LA Metro Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. Despite logistical obstacles stemming from the pandemic, this annual competition, the culmination of NFTE’s yearlong entrepreneurship curriculum, took place on time—and online. Participating students presented their original business ideas by video to a panel of esteemed judges, who named three winners. The first and second place winners, who will receive $1200 and $800, respectively, advance to NFTE’s National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge in September, where they will compete for a grand prize of $12,000. The third-place winner will receive $600.

  • 1st Place: Mariela Cruz, 13, from Nightingale Middle School, won with a business pitch for Sole, a shoe that can grow five sizes.
  • 2nd Place: YingJun Tan, 13, from Nightingale Middle School, won with a pitch for Pedura, which provides children with a comfortable backpack and chair, opening the door to a better educational experience.
  • 3rd Place: Ellie Gottlieb, 16, from Ivy Academia, won with a pitch for Reviva, a monthly subscription box service that provides vegan toiletries.

Mariela Cruz and YingJun Tan will be joined at NFTE’s National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge by two finalists from across the region, each of whom was awarded $200:

  • Jalen Griffin, 18, from Paramount High School pitched ENTRPRNR, an app formatted as an online teaching platform that provides the most up-to-date information about how to become an entrepreneur.
  • Jacqueline Samaniego, 17, from Capital High School in Santa Fe, NM, pitched Earthlings, a gender-neutral clothing line that uses renewable resources.

Separately, Saira Casian, 18, was awarded $500 in NFTE LA Metro’s Entrepreneurship 2 (E2) competition for The Last Pin, which creates beautiful handmade corsages and pins made of artificial flowers. The winner of this competition has the opportunity to apply for NFTE’s Alumni Investor Forum, which is scheduled for spring 2021. Six winning E2 businesses from across the country will be selected to participate in that event and will compete for further investment funds. Runners-up Spencer Lopez (18) and Jasmine Gomez (17) were awarded $250 for The Fluffy Cafe, a pet adoption pop-up shop and cafe that offers exposure to animals at risk of being euthanized. All three attend Paramount High School.

“In the current uncertain climate, young people are realizing more than ever that entrepreneurship offers an opportunity for personal empowerment,” said NFTE president and CEO, Dr. J.D. LaRock. “Employers look for candidates with an entrepreneurial mindset, which the NFTE curriculum fosters. Whether or not they ultimately run their own companies, our students are being set up to succeed, and we are eager to support their endeavors.”

Two special awards were announced during the event: University of Southern California was honored with the NFTE LA Metro Corporate Volunteer of the Year Award, and Gary Polk, Sr. from California State University, Dominguez Hills was honored with the NFTE LA Metro Individual Volunteer of the Year Award.

Student business pitches were judged by a panel of experts that included:

  • Gary Polk, California State University, Dominguez Hills
  • Alan Zack, Carrot Group
  • Paul Chen, EY
  • Heather Hasson, FIGS
  • Megan McGowan-Epstein, Goldman Sachs
  • Eric Cox, Net Capital
  • Edward Lin, NexusEdge
  • Gregory François, Paramount School District
  • Patrick Henry, USC Marshall School of Business
  • Leo Gestetner, Zenvoy

The NFTE LA Metro Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge was presented by EY, with signature support from Intuit, Zenvoy and Microsoft, associate support from Citi, KoBreHoldings and Ares Management, and support from Alan & Megan Epstein, Patrick Henry, Matt Shekoyan, and Sunkist Growers.

About NFTE
Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) is a global nonprofit that activates the entrepreneurial mindset and builds startup skills in young people from under-resourced communities. Reaching more than 100,000 middle and high school students annually, NFTE works with schools and community partners in 25 U.S. states and 10 countries around the world. Leveraging classroom teachers and volunteers from top-tier companies, NFTE’s research-based model teaches students how to identify a business opportunity and launch a business; helps them learn about the range of jobs and occupations available to them; and develops their “entrepreneurial mindset” — a set of skills including creativity, adaptability, communication, and collaboration that leads to success in any career. Since 1987, NFTE has educated 1.2 million young people worldwide, helping thousands launch businesses and companies of all sizes. Learn more at

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