By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor

ALEC GEMONDO
ANTHONY CARUSO

Applicants entered in both the WV Collegiate Business Plan Competition and the WV High School Business Plan Competition numbered in the hundreds!  These competitions are hosted annually by the BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship that operates out of the College of Business and Economics at West Virginia University.

The field has now been narrowed down to ‘finalists’, with 27 teams from five West Virginia universities and colleges in the collegiate division and 10 finalists in the running for the high school prize.

The collegiate finalists are vying for three $10,000 prizes which would allow them to launch new businesses in West Virginia.  Only one winner will be chosen at the high school level and that winner will be offered a grand prize of a $10,000 college scholarship.

Lincoln High School business teacher Julia Yearego explained that the high school competition is open to all juniors and seniors in high schools and career/technical schools throughout the state.

“I have 25 students in my Personal Finance class at Lincoln High School, and every one of them entered the competition.   There were LOTS of entries statewide, so to have even one finalist from our school, let alone two, is truly amazing!” Mrs. Yearego exclaimed.  “This is my first year teaching at Lincoln, and I am so impressed with the caliber of students here at this school.  They have wonderful leadership skills; they are very creative and involved, and really exemplify excellence.  Having two of the ten finalists from Lincoln is a testament to the type of commitment they have toward accomplishing their goals.”

Yearego explained that high school competitors were required to come up with a skeletal outline that included a business idea, business name, customer target area, startup costs, marketing plan, etc.  When the field of applicants was narrowed down to finalists, those finalists were then invited to attend a workshop at WVU, designed to help them gear up for the final round of competition.

Steven Cutright, director of the BrickStreet Center, noted that the finalists’ training workshop held in early February offered a huge learning component to the competitions with a group of prestigious speakers (including professors, attorneys, successful entrepreneurs, etc.) who addressed the students, helping them to understand and meet state business compliance and associated requirements.

Cutright added, “Secretary of State Mac Warner was also among our speakers.  Part of his job is ensuring that businesses are properly registered, and he spoke to them about the services that are available to them with a startup business.”

Secretary Warner stated, “These competitions attract some of the most promising young entrepreneurs in the Mountain State.  These students possess the interest, intellect and drive to be successful in the classroom and in business.  I am honored to be part of this and want students to be aware of having a continuing relationship with state agencies.  We have a shared goal of business creation in West Virginia.”

Alec Gemondo, the son of Jimmy and Pam Gemondo of Shinnston, is one of the Lincoln High School finalists.  His concept is a mobile coffee business that would park on college campuses; “Fill’er Up Coffee Truck” was the name he chose for his business.

“My family has been in the food industry for years so I have been around it all my life.  That was an asset for me in developing a plan, and my older brother is an accountant so he was able to offer advice on the financial aspects,” Alec said.  “Attending the workshop was very helpful and offered good advice as I move forward in the competition.”

Senior Anthony Caruso, the son of JC and Valerie Caruso of Mt. Clare is also a Lincoln finalist.   His business is a mobile hauling company he would call “Yee Haul”, a business that would be structured specifically to travel around and pick up items that are not typically collected during regular garbage pickup.  Unfortunately, his notification that he was a finalist went to his spam folder and he was unaware that he was a finalist until after the workshop had been held.

Anthony stated, however, that Alec had been kind enough to share with him a lot of what he had learned from the workshop.

“I come from a family of accountants,” Anthony said, “so they were very helpful to me, advising me and giving me suggestions concerning financial matters as I put my plan together.”

Although the competition is currently all about attaining that scholarship, the students may at some point actually aspire to become entrepreneurs and will be able to draw from this experience.  Both local students admit to being devoted fans of ‘Shark Tank’, the multi-Emmy Award-winning reality show that gives budding entrepreneurs the opportunity to bring their dreams to fruition by presenting their ideas to self-made multi-millionaire tycoons who seek to make an investment in a lucrative idea.

Both Alec and Anthony are now in the process of preparing a written, 15-page full business plan which must be submitted by March 10th as they enter the final phase of the competition.  Each finalist will also be giving a 10-minute oral presentation before a panel of judges,  followed by a five-minute question and answer period on March 17th at WVU.

Mrs. Yearego concluded, “I will continue to practice with both students for their verbal presentations, and they will also receive assistance from members of the Harrison County Chamber of Commerce who, as mentors, will give them guidance as well.”

Best of luck to each of these Cougar finalists as they compete for a $10,000 college scholarship!  The winner will be announced at 2 p.m. on March 17th, immediately following the final phase of judging that day.