“It was a great experience. It is not something that most people do, like who starts a business in high school?” said Maia Kushnaroff, a senior at Big Picture, who was selected as Bellevue’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA) winner last spring for her creation, Sweetimals.
YEA provides students a model to brainstorm an idea, refine the idea to make it better, and then create a business plan to pitch your idea to investors. It is held every Wednesday for three hours at the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce and is open to middle and high school students. YEA provides support to students by pairing them with a mentor who is able to assist the student with their business plan, both writing and revising it.
Sweetimals, a specialty gift item of sugar figurines that can be dissolved in hot drinks, was created by Kushnaroff because she was “inspired by wax figures that I would mold into a shape and I thought it would be cool if I could do something with that,” she said. She set out to make a product created out of molds, and used the platform YEA offered to pitch her business.
Kushnaroff pitched her Sweetimals product to five judges and investors in Bellevue during the local competition. Twenty-five Bellevue area students competed and Kushnaroff was selected the winner, and went on to compete in the next round of competition in Phoenix.
Kushnaroff credits Big Picture with helping her prepare for her pitch to judges and investors. “Here at Big Picture we do a bunch of presentations with the internships and have exhibitions,” she said. “So I think I was pretty prepared for the final presentation that I had to give to all the people. I liked my Powerpoint. It had a lot of pictures, and not as many words, which is what we learn here; that people like more pictures than words.”
Although she did not win in Phoenix she continues to believe in her product and says “you just keep going with your business.”
Looking to the future, Kushnaroff’s next step to launch Sweetimals is to obtain her business license and find a place to sell her product. She does encourage others to join YEA, “especially if the student has an idea already and they think it’s going to make a great business, but just need a little push or help,” she said. “Then it (YEA) is perfect!”