a NFTE alum whose optimism and positivity would
never indicate the uncertainty of his past.
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Tatyana Blackwell, 17
Just Cheer Uniforms
Capitol Heights, Maryland

“To be a good entrepreneur, it takes you believing in yourself, even if nobody else does.”

Tatyana, a cheerleader and a bit of a rebel, embodies the adventurous spirit of a true entrepreneur. A few years ago, Tatyana and the other members of Suitland High School’s cheerleading team were less than impressed by the uniform design proposed by their coach. Tatyana took matters into her own hands, designing a “flashy, hot-looking” outfit, which was the beginning of her business, Just Cheer. Tatyana’s designs began to catch the interest of other squads – and orders began pouring in. Tatyana not only designs and manages the manufacturing of cheerleading outfits – but she is currently working on a special project with the Washington Redskins Cheerleaders. Her business plan captured first place at the Greater Washington D.C. business plan competition in the spring of 2008.tatyana_blackwell

Jessica Cervantes, 18
Popsy Cakes, Miami

“Get out and talk to different people about your business idea. You have to go after it; you can’t just wait for it to come to you.”

Ever since her grandmother taught her how to bake, Jessica has loved measuring and tasting different ingredients – and experimenting with fun vibrant flavors. But it was not until Jessica enrolled in an entrepreneurship course at her school, that baking and business came together in a brand new recipe for success. For her business plan, Jessica decided to create a new cupcake concept called Popsy Cakes – a cake on an edible stick. The budding baker won second place in the South Florida regional competition. Jessica hopes to attend the University of Miami, get an M.B.A, and take Popsy Cakes nationwide.JessicaCervantes

Popsy Cakes

Huong Cheng
Personal Person
Oakland, California

Huong Cheng’s business, “Personal Person,” matches up able-bodied teens with members of the elderly community for companionship and assistance. Huong finds inspiration and motivation in her mother, Heak Cheng, who escaped from Cambodia in the 1970s, after losing the rest of her family to the violence of the Khmer Rouge. After settling in Oakland, California, Huong’s parents struggled to provide for their children as neither spoke English. Huong and her siblings began working as teens to support the family. “She’s sacrificed so much already, coming from Cambodia, and she lived through all these hardships. I don’t want her to feel that pain any more. So I want to do better in order to give her a better future,” Huong says. Currently attending Chabot College, Huong intends to continue building up Personal Person into a profitable business. She placed first in the San Francisco regional business competition. HuongCheng

Gabriel Echoles & Rodney Walker, 18
Forever Life Music & Video Productions
Chicago, Illinois

“How would I describe myself – I am a scholar.” – Rodney Walker

Rodney was put into the foster care system at the age of five, along with six of his nine brothers and sisters – and for a spell, was homeless. Rather than following in the footsteps of his brothers (several of whom were in gangs or in jail), Rodney forged a new future for himself by learning how to start a business. He stayed in school, graduating with honors, and is currently studying business at Morehouse College

Gabe Echoles, a life-long musician, and Rodney’s business partner, is also from the South Side of Chicago. Born to a teenage mother, Gabe was primarily raised by his grandmother – a very strong Christian woman. When Gabe enrolled in an entrepreneurship class at his high school, he began to think about a career writing songs. His entrepreneurship teacher suggested that he pair up with Rodney – to combine their interests into a business, and Forever Life Music & Video Productions was born. The business, which creates customized videos with originally composed music and songs for special occasions, won first place in the Chicago citywide business plan competition.GabeEcholesRodneyWalker

Evelyn Espinoza
The Hippie’s Candles
Los Angeles, California

Evelyn Espinoza brings her charisma and sass from Los Angeles, California. Evelyn founded her business, The Hippie’s Candles, in the kitchen of her mother’s apartment. Both of Evelyn’s parents emigrated from El Salvador – her mother was a seamstress and her father delivered wine. Evelyn was intelligent and charismatic, but, like many of her peers, never considered applying to a four-year college until a teacher pulled her aside after school one day to encourage her to think bigger. Evelyn won 1st place at the Los Angeles regional business plan competition.GabeEcholesRodneyWalker

Macalee Harlis, 18
MAC Shields
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

“Put all you have into it.”

Mac, a standout high school football player, credits his father as his greatest influence. His father, Macalee Harlis, Sr., had to forgo college to support family, later becoming a custodian for the Ft. Lauderdale School system. A strict man, he wanted more for his son – insisting that Mac learn to be his own person and think for himself. Mac enrolled in an entrepreneurship class for high school and his business was born out of sheer inspiration. Mac looked up at his teacher, who was wearing transition sun glasses. He immediately thought about how difficult it was to play football in certain conditions (with lights flashing or light changing) – and he created MAC Shields – football shields painted with photo-chromatic paint that transitions in color according to the UV sunlight concentration in the environment. Mac’s current prototype goes leaps and bounds beyond the very primitive black paint most players use to deflect the sun. Mac will continue his studies at Florida Atlantic University this fall and is currently working on making a prototype for MAC Shields.MacaleeHarris

Shan Shan Huang, 19
Charger Station
Boston, Massachusetts

“If you don’t take risks, you will never know what you could have done.”

Three years ago, Shan Shan was a high school student in southern China when her parents made a decision that would change the lives of their family forever: they immigrated to the United States to give their daughters a chance for a better education and a better life. In China, Shan Shan never had the opportunity to learn about business, so she jumped at the chance to take an entrepreneurship course at Charlestown High School. Shan Shan designed a plan to import Chinese cell phone charger vending machines that she noticed in the airports and hotels in China. Shan Shan took first place in the New England regional business plan competition. She is currently talking to Chinese manufacturers to adapt the cell phone charger devices for the American market and will attend College of the Holy Cross this fall.ShanShanHuang

Amanda Loyola, 15
EcoDog Treats LLC
New York, New York

“Starting my own business has taught me that if you want to do something, you should never let anyone tell you you can’t.”

Amanda’s father, Cesar, escaped from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, and came to America. With his limited English, he began working at the local Burger King in Brooklyn but later started his own business as a chef. Amanda, inspired by her father’s entrepreneurial spirit, started a vegetarian dog biscuit business after her dog, Princess, died from cancer. Heartbroken, Amanda began to research the ingredients of pet food, discovering that red meat, which contains chemicals from cattle feed, was one of the leading causes of cancer in dogs. Amanda created peanut butter-based dog treats which were vegetarian, organic and chemical-free. She notes that the dogs in her neighborhood prefer her EcoDog treats over meat treats. She took first place in the New York Metro regional business plan competition and plans to study economics when she goes to college.AmandaLoyola

Eco Dog Treats

William Mack, 16 & Ja’Mal Wills, 17
J&W Sensations
Baltimore, Maryland

“The most important thing that we learned is that sometimes you have to take a risk. But good things can come from it.”

The idea for William and Ja’Mal’s business grew out of a school science class when they discovered the high number of chemicals in typical body lotions. The boys were inspired to develop a chemical-free lotion and, to their delight, discovered that “the ladies loved our cucumber melon scented lotion.” Their business plan took first place in the Baltimore citywide business plan competition. William and Ja’Mal spent part of their summer perfecting their lotion formula as well as the business plan for the national competition. After the high school juniors graduate, they both plan on attending college. William would like to pursue athletics, while Ja’Mal plans to major in business.WilliamMackJamalWills

Robbie Martin, 17
The Deaf Academy
New Bedford, Massachusetts

“When I was younger, many people thought that I was a failure. I think now I’ve proved to them that I can be a success.”

Robbie, who has been deaf since birth, hasn’t let his lack of hearing slow him down. Instead, he was inspired to launch Deaf Academy after fellow New Bedford High School students began asking for impromptu sign language lessons. During breaks and after school, he taught fellow students to sign. While teaching basic signing skills to children at the Kids College at Bristol Community College, Robbie saw an opportunity to combine his teaching ability and the market for his services. He placed third at the New England regional business plan competition. He currently attends Gallaudet University.RobbieMartin

Anné Montague, 17
Inamoratos Dance
Baltimore, Maryland

“Be driven. Don’t settle for what might happen – make it happen.”
“Having my own business means making my own rules.”

Anné does it all. She dances, choreographs, and takes full charge of her dance company, which she started at the age of 10. Anné was raised primarily by her father, Purcell Montague, a truck driver, as her mother suffered from drug addiction. Anné, a focused girl with a big attitude, requires her dancers to go to class and keep their grades up. Anné’s business is a non-profit, aimed at getting inner city kids off the street. Her motto? “No shirt, no shoes, no need. We dance.” Anné will attend Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University next year, majoring in business.AnneMontague

Alexander Niles, 16
Niles Custom Shop Guitars
Miami, Florida

“Believe in yourself, and you’ll do it. If you think negative, then it’s never going to happen.”

Alex is the son of immigrants – a Hungarian father (and entrepreneur) and a mother from Uruguay. Alex, now 16 and a lifelong musician, builds customer guitars. As Alex says, “Well, Jimi Hendrix made his own guitar, so I thought I would make one too.” Alex also notes that his newest guitar, made of the highest-quality components (which he thinks is superior to Fender and Gibson), is one that his favorite musician, Kurt Cobain, would have played. Alex never dreamed that he could create a business from his passion until he took an entrepreneurship class at Highland Oaks Middle School. When his business plan took first place in the South Florida Regional Business Plan Competition, Alex used his prize money to create a custom guitar, which is now endorsed by legendary musician, Alex Fox. Alex won the South Florida Regional business plan competition and hopes to study music theory at the Juilliard School in New York after graduating from high school.AlexanderNiles


Rahfeal Gordon
RahGor Motivations
New York, New York

Rahfeal Gordon is a NFTE alum whose optimism and positivity would never indicate that his past was filled with uncertainty and turmoil. As a young boy, his parents’ addiction to drugs literally tore the family apart, causing Rahfeal’s mother and father to separate and draining the family’s finances. Because his mother could not afford to pay rent, Rahfeal – who was in fourth grade at the time – along with his three younger brothers, lived in homeless shelters in New York and New Jersey for the next two years. Rahfeal compensated by throwing himself into school, surrounding himself with friends, counselors and immersing himself in extracurricular activities. However, his two younger brothers did not fare as well. One brother was tragically killed by gang violence; one is currently incarcerated.

Rahfeal began his path of entrepreneurship through NFTE, launching an event-planning business in high school. From that base, he has developed RahGor Motivations, a full-time motivational-speaking and publishing business, and has published several books aimed at motivating teens to aim high. He recently graduate from Montclair College.JasmineLawrence

Eric Foster
All-High Sports
San Francisco, California

Eric Foster, an alumni of the NFTE program in San Francisco, understands the crossroads that high school students in the inner city stand at. At the age of eight, Eric began stealing and re-selling items on the street to make money. “When you’re a have-not, you try to figure out different ways to have,” he says of he and his friends, who stole to sustain their incomes well into high school. As a junior in high school, Eric found another path – he found Jesus, an event which convinced him that he had a purpose in life other than scraping by on whatever he could steal. Eric’s purpose is to both share the word of God with his peers, and to assist fellow football players like himself in achieving their aspirations. As the founder and CEO of All-High Sports, which assists and guides athletes by compiling and sending out highlight tapes to coaches around the country, Eric values the change he brings to promising football standouts – and the difference he is making by helping them pursue their dreams.JasmineLawrence

SeKeithia Johnson
Unleashed Talent Productions
Washington D.C.

SeKeithia Johnson, an alum of the NFTE program, combines her love of business and slam poetry as the founder of Unleashed Talent Productions. SeKeithia, who grew up in Southeast Washington, DC in a violent neighborhood, was raised by her mother Deserie (also a poet). SeKeithia began writing slam poetry so that she could share with other teens that it is okay to talk about the things teens in the inner city have to deal with: growing up without a father, drugs, violence; or questioning their sexuality. As SeKeithia pursues a career as a history teacher, she continues to reach out to children in her community through Unleashed Talent.SeKeithiaJohnson

Jasmine Lawrence
Eden Body Works
New Jersey

Jasmine Lawrence, a 17-year-old at the Williamstown High School, is arguably one of the most successful teenage entrepreneurs in the country. Jasmine’s business was inspired by a regrettable incident with a hair relaxer that made all of her hair fall out at the age of 11 – and she was determined to create safe organic products for other women. Desperate to make her hair grow back, Jasmine researched and experimented with organic products, and stumbled onto a formula which helped her hair grow back. Word spread throughout her community, landing her a spot on Oprah and a deal with Whole Foods Market (which carries her line of bath salts). She has recently negotiated a deal with Walmart – all before the age of 18.JasmineLawrence

Eden Body Works

Howard Stubbs
Howard’s Hot Dogs
New York City

Peter Jennings featured Howard’s story on ABC News in 1988. Howard had it all – he was a high school senior from the Bronx, an entrepreneur with a hot dog stand business (like his mother), and class president of his high school class. Ironically, it was during college that Howard veered off the path. He came home one day to find his mother in tears. There had been a snowstorm and she was unable to push her hotdog cart into the city – and she fell behind in paying her bills. Howard decided to make some fast money – and began selling drugs. He was arrested and served 6 years in prison. “Prison is hell on earth,” said Howard. He now says to younger kids: “You want to sell drugs and you want to go down the wrong path? They’ve got something waiting for you on the other side.” It was in prison that Howard began studying the Bible. Howard promised himself that when he got out, he would “follow his feet” down the right path to give his daughter a positive role model. After his release from prison, Howard returned to his hot dog business, which he believes make it possible for him to follow a path to success.


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