A better, safer grill brush proved to be the winning idea and presentation at the second annual Marion County Youth Entrepreneurship Contest March 7 in the Marion Community Center.
Three of the five county high schools sent student-initiated businesses to the contest, which was sponsored by NetWork Kansas and the Entrepreneurship Communities of Hillsboro and Marion.
The innovative grill brush was designed by Arrow Grilling, a Hillsboro High School business.
Students Jonathan Hinerman and Nathan Simhiser, who represented the business at the contest, said their product cleans barbecue grill tops more easily and safely because it doesn’t use wire bristles that can break off and cause serious health issues if ingested.
The second-place business was Nothin’ But Nut from Marion High School. The business markets a variety of nuts and flavored nuts both locally and regionally. The presenters were partners Marissa Jacobson and Colin Williams.
Third place went to Aura, a business developed by three Hillsboro freshmen, Ava Weisbeck, Faith Dalke and Megan Bechtold, to market bath salts and oils.
The contest began with a tradeshow and elevator pitches. At 11:30 a.m., the show was opened to the general public with students remaining at their tradeshow booths. Guests were invited to visit the booths and vote for “People’s Choice” categories.
Following a lunch featuring speakers Rod and Carrie Koons, the entrepreneurial couple behind Rod’s Tire and Service in Hillsboro, the judges announced the top three business finalists.
In a final round of competition, each of the three business made a multi-media presentation and responded to questions from the judges: Chris Costello from Tampa Sate Bank; Ciara Thyfault, representing NetWork Kansas, and Phil Weisenbach, co-owner of Hillsboro Industries.
Prior to announcing the overall winner, Randy Collett of Marion E-Community announced the People’s Choice winners:
• “Best Tabletop” went to Cougar Custom Signs from Centre High School. Students Hannah Peterson, Dylan Deines, Cole Methvin and Greg Oborny received a prize check for $100.
• “Best Elevator Pitch” went to C&A Laser Design developed by HHS students Avery Unruh and Collin Brown, who received $100 for their business that makes steel signs and logos.
• “Best Product” went to Arrow Grilling, along with a $100 check.
• The overall “People’s Choice Award” want to Nothin’ But Nuts, along with a $200 check.
The top three businesses received a prize check: $750 for first place, $500 for second place and $250 for third.
As the winning team, Arrow Grilling also received an automatic berth in the state contest to be hosted April 24 at Fort Hays State University. Non-winning teams from the 21 other YEC series events can apply for a state berth.
Additional business competing from HHS were Hook ’em Lures, developed by fishing enthusiasts Brook Bradford and Logan Oborny; and Triple J, developed by Josiah Driggers, Joe Knoll and Jaxton Tracy, which features “big head” photo-posters.
Also representing MHS were The Decal Shop, developed by Emma Fay, and JZ’s Highlights, a video business developed by Zachary Stuchlik and Jackson Schneider.
The business advisers from the three participating high schools are Nathan Hiebert at Hillsboro, Megan Thomas at Marion and Ashley Coirer at Centre.
Members of the organizing team are Todd Heitschmidt and Randy Collett from Marion, and Clint Seibel, Cynthia Fleming and Lou Thurston from Hillsboro.
“We believe this is a critical component of our overall economic development efforts,” he added. “Our youth are our future and the more of them we can develop that will choose to stay, live and work in Marion County, the better.”
After an educational approach at the inaugural contest hosted last year by Tabor College, Thurston said this year’s organizing team intentionally involved more county entrepreneurs and successful businesses.
Hillsboro companies participating included Barkman Honey as a lead sponsor, along with Ag-Power, Ag-Service and Rod’s Tire and Service. The Historic Elgin Hotel and CB Baked Goods represented the Marion business community.