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Big Idea pays off for Carson

Teachers are always looking for ways to turn classroom lessons into real-life lessons.
So Colleen Young, who teaches Carson High School’s first business entrepreneurship class, was excited when Catawba College launched the Big Idea Business Plan competition.
Young’s nine budding entrepreneurs — eight seniors and one junior — entered the contest and came up with an idea for RoCo To Go, a take-out service for restaurants that don’t already deliver. Here’s their big idea: Hungry people would go to a website or app, browse through a variety of menus from local restaurants and place an order. The restaurant would fill the order, sell it to RoCo To Go at a discount, and then RoCo To Go would deliver the meal to the customer, who would pay full price.
The business plan for RoCo To Go was so good, Young’s class won first place in the high school division. Students Cameron Cabrera, J.C. Carpenter, Tommy Dang, Tonny Dang, Jennifer Eury, Grayson Haff, Jon-Marc Overby, Lucas Safrit and Alishia Sears split the $1,000 prize.
“This was a neat experience for them,” Young said. “They were able to take everything I have been I have been teaching in the classroom and apply it to something in the real world.”
Young has asked if Carson can offer entrepreneurship as a second semester class again next year so more students can compete in Big Idea, which Catawba says will be bigger and better with new partners Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and Livingstone College.
Dr. Phillip Frank, the Catawba marketing professor who helped create the contest with business professor Dr. Pamela Thompson, said several of the winning entries are viable business models, and RoCo To Go is a prime example. Frank said he hopes more teachers will incorporate the Big Idea into their lesson plans.
“If we can partner with high schools and have this as a part of their curriculum, that is a great way to move forward,” Frank said.
Catawba’s contest, which handed out $5,000 in prizes thanks to Ralph Ketner, ties in with the entrepreneurship development strategy in the works by the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission. Erik Pages, a nationally known expert on small business start-ups, came to town in November and said business plan contests and mentoring are crucial to getting people to start their own businesses.
The Big Idea was both a contest and mentoring opportunity. Eight finalists (out of 22 entries) were assigned a mentor to help hone their business plan.
“I hope that some of those business plan concepts actually become new start-ups in Rowan County,” said chamber President Elaine Spalding, who continues to mentor her contestant, who came in third in the adult division.
Hooking kids on entrepreneurship is key, Spalding said. When she worked in Oregon, Spalding said there were several high school students starting video game and Internet businesses. Facebook, after all, was started by college students.
“We want to get people started as early as possible thinking about starting their own business rather than just getting a job,” Spalding said.
Thompson, an entrepreneur herself, was quite impressed with the business plans in the competition and said several really could make fly.
Salisbury, home of Food Lion and Cheerwine and the list goes on, has a history of successful start-ups. The community can build on that legacy, Thompson said.
“We just need a few sparks here and this is going to be a place that people are going to talk about for entrepreneurship,” she said.
Food apparently inspires teenage entrepreneurs. Not only did Carson come up with RoCo To Go, but Salisbury High School students Zack Bates and Keegan Giste (under the tutelage of teacher Tim Pittman) took second place with an idea that would split the former Cooper’s into two restaurants — Red’s Diner for breakfast and lunch and Average Joe’s for dinner and late night — but share the same kitchen.
Judges and mentors for the Big Idea were Spalding, Darin Spencer, Brannon Williams, Robert Van Geons, Aaron Goss, David Post, Nick Goodman, Jessica Gaskill, Skip Wood, Barbara Hall, Dana Lanham, Dr. Charles Muse, Dr. Colin Pillay, Dr. Sheila Brownlow, Frank Farina and Richard Browne.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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