Stafford County ranks in top categories at state Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge

Out of 105 counties and more than 70 teams competing in Kansas, four St. John High School students brought home some of the highest honors at Kansas State University’s Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge.

The four students represented two teams and were required to present a business pitch three times to a pair of judges.

D & P Baling and Stacking — comprised of Ian Dunn, age 17, junior at St. John High School and Weston Peterson, 15, sophomore—placed in the Exemplary Division. Their business plan is a custom service for farmers who may not have the time nor labor to cut, rake, bale and stack their own hay. The team won $3,000 in money. It took them six months to develop the business plan.

“My business partner and I both live on farms and enjoy the agricultural aspect and wanted to do a farm-based business,” Ian Dunn said. “Probably the hardest question was how will you expand your business and enter new markets?  I said that in the future, we’d like to actually buy or pay farmers and then bail it and sell it.”

Weston Peterson said the idea originally stemmed in a business entrepreneur class the two took.

“We decided this is something for our area and we both have experience operating heavy equipment and thought this would be a good business for us to do … Probably one of the hardest questions was when one of the judges asked us if when we had a tough decision to make and we both disagreed, how would we solve that? I said we are both friends but when it comes to business, you have to put feelings aside and do what’s best for the business. If that means we have to flip a coin, we’d flip a coin.”

iTable Menu – Jorja Blakeslee, age 15, sophomore and Maylin Sanders, also 15, a freshman  – created online menus for restaurants. It’s for customers who can see and order online without having to actually touch the menus, thus a more sanitary means of getting their food. The iTable Menu team placed third in the Trade Show division, winning $500. The team also submitted a website and won second place at the Emagine Media Festival in Olathe the week prior to the Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge.

“So, what we do is take paper menus and make them electronic,” said Jorja Blakeslee. “So, you can just tap your phone onto a QR code scanner and it would bring up whatever menu you want to look at.”

The Covid pandemic inspired Blakeslee and Sanders but the two believe more restaurants will turn to technology-inspired menus.

The statewide competition was, at first, daunting to the students.

“I was nervous before our first interview,” Sanders said. “But after that, I was pretty confident. We had something that was unique and no one else had the same ideas we did.”

Ixchel Mixon served as the girls’ teacher/ mentor. Mixon is the interactive media instructor at St. John High School

“They practiced their speech over and over and once we got there, they realized this was an important thing,” Mixon said. “Not every student gets invited to be one of the very few groups that make it into this competition. They won through a Wild Card entry. They did not win first place at the Stafford competition but they still got second place – which was one point difference from out other team.  Out of 82 entries, they got picked to go to state and compete. It was really motivating for them.”

Mixon said she expects the students will try for the state championships again next year.

“They’ve got a winning idea.”

Stafford County Economic Development with funding from South Central Community Foundation hosted the local YEC competition and sponsored the students to attend the state-wide competition. EcoDevo is a 501c3 nonprofit organization with a mission to promote economic and population growth throughout the county by assisting local businesses, engaging in community activities, and promoting Stafford County as a great place to live, work, and play.