Area high school students went up against a team of “Sharks” recently to present ideas for local business development.
Students from Harlan High School and Harlan County High School came together to present their ideas in the first annual “Shark Tank” sponsored by The Bank of Harlan. The idea for the event came from Rayburn Doss, a member of the bank’s board of directors and local businessman, after he learned of the activity taking place in his daughter-in-law’s class at Harlan High School for the past few years.
“The Bank of Harlan was very pleased to give students in our county the opportunity to express their ideas for local business development,” said Steve Tolliver, president and chief executive officer of the bank. “With the many challenges and setbacks our area is now facing, it was refreshing to be in a room full of optimism.”
Students came armed with PowerPoints, websites, photos, costs estimates, employment projections, lists of obstacles and other promotional items to lobby the sharks to select their idea as the best. The sharks for the evening were local business owners and professionals — Tara Bryson, Justin Smith, Brandon Pennington and Donell Busroe.
“I serve on several business and economic development boards, but found myself fascinated by the wide scope of new ideas and the depth with which participants investigated them,” said Tolliver.
As part of their research, students called upon experts to gain insights for their proposals.
“The fact that a student would pick up the phone and call the CEO of a railroad company is impressive,” said one observer at the event.
Shawn Doss, coach of the HHS team, said the event was a “huge success. What a great way to get our young minds interested in our county. Here at Harlan High, I have been doing this project for the past three years. The kids seem to really enjoy it. It makes them think and get their creative juices flowing. I have seen some great ideas come through my students.”
David Hensley, the ARI Innovation and career and technical education coordinator for the Harlan County Schools, said the event was “a wonderful experience for the students to take an entrepreneurial idea all the way from conception to business plan. This is a process many business owners do not complete until they are acquiring funding for their venture. I hope more students will get on board for next year’s event and will experience this for themselves.”
Scott Pace, a teacher at HCHS, said the Shark Tank offered a “wonderful experience for everyone involved and allowed our students to play a key role in the economic development of our area.”
Pace said that “For us to be successful at all levels, we must encourage and prepare our children to not only become stakeholders within our communities, but leaders that will shape our future.”
Doss said she was pleased with the work of her students who took part in the event. “I am so proud of the kids… It is not easy to get up and present your ideas in front of a panel of judges. I felt they all rose to the occasion. We heard some great ideas. I know that my participants worked very hard trying to be able to answer every question that may come their way. I am so proud of them.”
Ideas ranged from the development of tourist attractions, to relocation of a manufacturing plant to the county, to businesses which simply would provide assistance to people looking to start new businesses.
Students made detailed presentations to the team of sharks and then fielded questions about the viability, costs and other dynamics to determine those most suitable to success.
The first place award went to Boone Allison, a student at the Craft Academy at Morehead State University and representative of Harlan High School.
He proposed creating a work-ready community to attract a large automotive parts manufacturer that can be located on an abandoned strip mining site. He stressed the availability of utilizing the existing railroad infrastructure to transport products to the plants. He had researched various companies that provide parts to a Kentucky plant and demonstrated an opportunity to drastically reduce transportation costs by producing those in Harlan County. He also cited an available workforce.
Second place honors were awarded to Jaden Melton and Autumn Hensley, students at Harlan County High School. They lobbied the sharks for funding to open the “Three-Forks Railway Excursion” and dinner train. This proposal would also utilize the existing rail system to boost tourism. They noted opportunities for additional businesses such as gift shops, restaurants and others to open or expand to support the tourists.
The sharks selected HCHS senior Blake Blevins to receive the third place award with his idea for “Fudgalicious Fudgery,” a specialty fudge shop that would focus on in-store and online sales. He discussed the store front concept to allow local shopping and emphasize the significant impact online sales could have.
All of the proposals discussed the number of employees, startup costs and other information required when presenting a business plan to bankers, or in this event, the sharks.
The first presentation called for the development of a recreation center and was presented by the team of Madison Brewer and Caleb Hogue, seniors at Harlan High School. They proposed using a vacant building in the south Harlan business district. They proposed a multi-level facility that would include batting cages, basketball courts, walking track, playgrounds, party rooms and more. They also would utilize existing facilities in the area to serve all ages and provide a place for local athletes to train when school facilities aren’t available.
Killian Ledford and Brandon Day, also from Harlan High School, offered the sharks an opportunity to consider a business and job assistance center. This consulting firm would help local businesses get off the ground legally and in compliance with numerous state and federal regulations.
Damian Vance and Jarrett McKenzie, students at HHS, called their proposal “The Power House.” It would connect service providers with consumers. The list of service providers can be extensive and offer items such as guitar or karate lessons.
“The Bank of Harlan would like to extend thanks to the participants, coaches, Sharks and supporters,” said Tolliver.