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ESI Graduates Showcase Businesses at State Capitol

February 02, 2017

On December 9, 2016, Senator John Stinner announced that he and University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension were sponsoring a statewide contest open to any 5th - 9th grade student who has completed the EntrepreneurShip Investigation (ESI) program. ESI is an interactive and comprehensive curriculum project designed for youth, ages 10-19. ESI uses a variety of tools to help participants develop their entrepreneurial skills and find their business niche.

Since 2013, 43 students have completed the Western Nebraska Community College (WNCC) ESI program, all of whom were notified about this competition into which 14 students across the state would be accepted. Three WNCC students applied and were selected, including 9th grader Andrew Franco from Mitchell, 8th grader Grace Payne from Mitchell, and 8th grader Josie Amoo from Scottsbluff.

On January 11, these three students were joined by nine other youth from across the state to pitch their business ideas in the Rotunda of the Nebraska State Capitol building to state senators and a panel of judges. The students also had the opportunity to tour the Capitol and observe the legislature from the galley prior to the contest. Senator Stinner welcomed the youth to the Capitol upon arrival, and later in the day Governor Pete Ricketts paid a visit to the Rotunda to meet and greet the kids and ask them where they were from and what their business ideas were. Governor Ricketts commended the youth on their interest in entrepreneurship and their creative ideas for budding start-ups.

"I think the ESI program is a great way to foster innovation and creativity in our youth. Giving them the opportunity to put their ideas into practice fosters creative thinking and gives them a pathway to develop their ideas and pursue their dreams," said Stinner. "They are, after all, our future leaders and entrepreneurs. I have been grateful for the opportunity to meet some of tomorrow's future leaders and entrepreneurs, and am a supporter of the ESI program."

After spending two hours meeting the senators, judges, and general public, the contest winners were announced. The third place winner was Rhett Cullers from Chadron, whose business "Cross Butte Creations" creates coasters and trivets made from cedar wood. Second place went to another Chadron youth, Thomas Kaus, who customizes board games such as Kuusi, with his business "Personalized Play." WNCC's Amoo from Scottsbluff earned first place with her business "The Draft," in which she creates customized artwork for area sports teams and local businesses.

"Gov. Ricketts made a visit to our ESI display and talked with all the young entrepreneurs. When we visited the legislative chamber, Sen. Bruce Bostelman came up to talk with the youth and spent over 30 minutes answering questions from them," said Nancy Eberle, special projects consultant with UNL Extension. "Unexpected, yet a wonderful experience for all of us. Thanks so much Gov. Ricketts and Sen. Bostelman for making our day special!"

Observing how much the youth enjoyed meeting one another and sharing their ESI experiences, Leah Gremm, one of the instructors for the ESI Club in Chadron commented, "They came as contestants, but they left as friends!"

For more information about WNCC's ESI program, contact John N. Harms Center Executive Director Judy Amoo at 308-635-6702 or email