30
Apr

This winter I’ve had the pleasure to serve as a mentor at Kittery’s Traip Academy for the York Chamber of Commerce’s YEA! program (Young Entrepreneur’s Academy). This is a volunteer activity for high school students in Kittery, Kittery Point, York, Cape Neddick, and Eliot.

The students spend the fall and spring semesters developing a business idea, researching its viability, and writing a business plan to present before a panel of area business people. Think of the TV show The Shark, but for high school entrepreneurs.

This past week, students presented their final pitches to the panel of experienced local business people. Now, you’d think with all the decades of business expertise available to them, students would be clamoring to tap in to the brain trust for assistance with their ideas. Heck, I wanted to ask everyone else on the panel questions about their businesses.

Now, I understand students of a certain age assume they know it all and feel that asking an adult to review something is “so not cool”. In order to break the ice and open doors, I suggested all my “mentees” reach out to me with any questions, and even offered to review their business plans and presentations. What I got was something akin to crickets chirping after a failed stand-up routine – nothing but silence.

This was intriguing to me, since one of the most important traits of successful business leaders is the ability to realize when they don’t know something, and to know who to call for support and answers when those instances arise.

This would have been particularly useful for the student who kept referring to the “Gross Prophet” and “Net Prophet” of his plan. Perhaps he was secretly hoping for divine intervention?

I just shook my head. Kathleen Weare, owner of the Cliff House Resort and Spa and volunteer on the Panel, had a more constructive response and pointed out the error to the contestant.

It reminded me of a test I once gave to a would-be Autoworks apprentice technician who had pretty decent English grades. I told him, “Write down the following sentence, I’ll say it as many times as you need – ‘There are too many people to go on the two trains leaving for Boston’ “. This was an obvious test to differentiate between to, two and too. Every word in his answer was incorrect.

To me, to the Panel members, and to decision-makers in the world, attention to detail still matters. It grants or denies you credibility, and showcases your thoughtfulness and thoroughness, or lack thereof.

Congratulations to Aly York whose business proposal, Frosted Canvas, a cup cake business, captured the Chamber’s investment award. Were the judges swayed by the ample tasty samples of which the Oreo balls were my favorite? Did proper English influence the Panel’s decision? The answers are sealed behind closed doors, but my guess would be that both carried ample weight.

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