By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Area students in Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge
Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge winners
Pictured from left are: Paul Snapp, President and CEO of First Kansas Bank; Sue Cooper, Barton County Grant Coordinator; Christy Preston, from NetWork Kansas; Great Bend Economic Development Director Sara Hayden; second-place winner Katie Kuhlman; third-place winner Bradley Hopkins; first-place winner Kiley Stevenson; Great Bend Chamber of Commerce Director Megan Barfield; Great Bend Mayor Cody Schmidt; and Regan Reif, Wheatland Electric member services and key accounts manager. - photo by Daniel Kiewel

Area high school students put their best business feet forward Thursday afternoon for the public and area business leaders at the Great Bend Events Center for the first Barton County Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge.

The three entrants into the “Shark Tank” style challenge all sought to channel their passions into elaborate real-world business ideas.

In addition to interacting with the public through trade-show style displays and presentations, each entrant also gave a formal business presentation to a panel of judges comprised of area business and community leaders. Judges included Paul Snapp, President and CEO of First Kansas Bank; Sue Cooper, Barton County Grant Coordinator; Regan Reif, Wheatland Electric member services and key accounts manager; Great Bend Mayor Cody Schmidt; and Christy Preston from NetWork Kansas, a state entrepreneurship organization that helped bring the event to Barton County.

As part of the presentation, judges had the opportunity to ask questions of each student about his or her business plan, and cash awards were given for first, second and third place as selected by the judging panel. There was also a People’s Choice Award voted on by community members attending the event.

Great Bend Chamber of Commerce Director Megan Barfield and Great Bend Economic Development Director Sara Hayden both described the event as successful, both in terms of the quality of presentations, and for the support from the community.

“We’re so incredibly proud of these kids. They’ve done a great job,” Hayden said. “And with the community, the turnout has been amazing.”

Barfield said she was impressed by the turnout to the event with both the community at large, and from members of the Great Bend business community.

Snapp said contests like the Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge are important learning opportunities for the young participants.

“It is difficult to get direct experience in business management, so this is a unique opportunity for the young people who are participating,” he said. “In terms of building future leadership, I think all educational and extracurricular opportunities prepare young people for future leadership in our community.”

He wanted the students to know it’s important to always be willing to learn from others to gain experience.

Schmidt said based on what he saw from the students’ presentation, he feels the future of entrepreneurship in Great Bend looks bright. He encouraged these students and other young people who may be considering business ownership to take a chance and pursue it.

“The sky’s the limit,” Schmidt said. “If you have a goal or a dream, run with it. No one can ever take that away from you, only you can determine how far it goes.”

About the entrants

Kiley Stevenson, a sophomore at Ellinwood High School, took home both the first-place $1,000 cash prize and the People’s Choice Award for her baking business, Kiley’s Creations. 

Stevenson said she began baking shortly after her grandmother passed away. She said she had always made Christmas cookies with her grandmother, and after her grandmother’s passing, she decided to learn how to make them on her own.

Originally she baked just for fun, but about three years ago, with permission from her parents, she posted some of her baking creations to social media, and within hours said she had several dozen responses requesting orders for her baked goods.

From there, she said, she was not looking to create a business, but decided to pursue it after seeing the business grow with a large amount of support from the community. Right now, she primarily makes sugar cookies, ornately-decorated cakes, and cupcakes, but she said she will always try to fulfill whatever a customer requests.

Her display included “YEC” decorated sugar cookies, which she said is one of her favorites to make, as well as photographic samples of her many of her past creations.

She said she’s enjoyed being a part of the competition for the real-world business it has given her.

Though she is passionate about baking and will continue baking in the future, she is not sure yet if it will be her future career path. Though she has considered culinary school as an option, she told judges she has also considered becoming a forensic scientist or an elementary school teacher in the future.

“The possibilities are endless,” she said.

With the win, Stevenson will also move onto the state Kansas Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge competition put on by NetWork Kansas, which will be held virtually this year, with submissions beginning later in March, and judging beginning in April.

Katie Kuhlman, a Great Bend High School sophomore, took home the $500 second-place prize. Kuhlman said her business, Sunshine Smoothies, was borne from her passion for exercise. She wanted healthy post-workout refueling alternatives, and turned to making fruit and protein smoothies.

Her presentation included samples of several different smoothies, as well as complete menus.

She had already created a business plan as part of a school project, and when she heard about the competition, she jumped at the chance to enter. Kuhlman said entrepreneurship is a goal she hopes to continue pursuing in the future.

Bradley Hopkins, also a sophomore at GBHS, who took home $250 for third place, was inspired to take up woodworking by his grandfather, who was also a woodworker. His business name, Pickle’s Custom Designs, came from a nickname his grandfather used to call him. Much of what he does is self-taught, but said he has also learned about more complex aspects of woodworking from his father and his shop teacher.

As a woodworker, he said, his goal is to create quality-built keepsakes which can be passed down from generation to generation.

“I want to do something that people will actually want to hold onto,” Hopkins said.

His display included several of his own creations, and included a display table he built himself, and a toy chest he modeled after one his grandfather built several years ago.

He did not originally set out to create a business, he said, but was inspired to pursue the competition after hearing a class presentation from Hayden promoting the competition. Hopkins said he has enjoyed the experience of building a business and said there has been a lot of community support for the endeavors. He said woodworking is something he can see himself doing for the rest of his life.

Barfield said she is proud of all of the entrants and the work they put into their presentations.

“I am so impressed with the thought these students have put into their business plans,” Barfield said. “Certain elements stand out, but what I love the most is knowing this challenge pushed them to think about what it really takes to open a business and the many components necessary. They’re learning so much that will follow them in the years to come.”