Start-Up Cecil: Teen Small Business Contest

Katelyn McLimans May 1, 2016, 2 comments

Start-Up Cecil is a small business contest open to Cecil County teens ages 11-17. It is a three-part program series that teaches teens to brainstorm and strategize around their business ideas, write a business plan, and present their ideas to the public.

College and career readiness is a major focus of CCPL’s teen programming. We host career fairs, college/financial aid nights, and do targeted outreach at the local schools. This summer we will focus on another aspect of college and career readiness: entrepreneurship.

As a recent IMLS National Medal winner, CCPL was recognized for its innovative approaches to connecting youth with summer learning initiatives, as well as for its high impact work in providing small business services that connect entrepreneurs and business owners with the information and expertise they need to launch, grow and sustain their businesses.  Over the past few years, we’ve received feedback from the community’s teens regarding their growing interest in learning more about entrepreneurship.  Developing the Start-Up Cecil program has become the perfect opportunity to respond to this need and further teens’ college and career readiness skills by connecting them with the network of resources available through the library.

The programs are as follows:

Session 1: Do You Have What it Takes? (June 20)

The purpose of this session is to get the teens excited to participate in the contest and to allow them to brainstorm business ideas. For the first part of the program, local teen entrepreneur, Shreyas Parab, will share his story of success with our participants. Shreyas Parab founded a tie businesses called NovelTie at age 14. He attends a school where ties are a mandatory part of the dress code and he realized that he could create ties to allow his classmates to be more expressive. Some of his designs include “I mustache you a question,” “original stud muffin,” and “laxbro.” Shreyas sells his ties on his own website, is in talks with Sam’s Club and Walmart, and has earned national recognition as a teen entrepreneur. We believe that his story will be very inspiring to our teen participants. It teaches them to find ideas and opportunities in their everyday environment, identify a target market, and make their ideas a reality by gaining funding. Shreyas’s story will also show our teens that becoming a young entrepreneur is an attainable goal.

 Next, a local financial adviser will talk to the teens about what it takes to apply for small business funding. He will emphasize the necessity of developing a fully-researched business plan and outlining start-up costs in order to help teens begin to strategize all of the components of their potential business.

The teens will then have the opportunity to brainstorm and share their business ideas.

Session 2: How to Make It Happen (June 27)

The goal of this session is to show the teens how to write a business plan. CCPL’s small business librarian developed a basic business plan template that asks the teens to explain the need for their product/service, research competitors, identify a target market, and estimate start-up costs. The small business and teen librarians will move step-by-step through the template with the teens and teach them how to use the library’s small business databases to conduct their research.

Session 3: Business Plan Showcase (July 11)

The focus of this program is the business plan presentations. This event will be open to the teens’ families, friends, and the public. The teens will creatively present their business ideas to the audience and a panel of judges, consisting of local business owners and community members. They will use the teens’ business plans and their “pitch” presentations to determine the winners.

The judges will then award first, second, and third prize. These are monetary prizes that the winners can invest in their businesses. All teen participants will also receive participation prizes to guide them as they move forward with launching their businesses. Each teen will receive a stack of personalized business cards, a book titled Start It Up: The Complete Teen Business Guide to Turning Your Passions into Pay, and a Start-Up Cecil T-shirt. Funding for prizes is being provided in partnership with a local bank.  

Type: Active
Age: High school
Optimal size: 11-20
Estimated cost: $100+
Planning time: 5+ hours
Frequency: One-time

Learning outcomes

A critical area of need in our region is supporting and growing local industry. Cecil County needs more small businesses in order to bolster the county’s economy and provide opportunities for the local workforce. While we’ve connected thousands of adults in the community with support for their business ideas through CCPL’s small business services, we realized that our teens are also powerfully positioned to contribute to the development of the economy. They will soon be entering the workforce, and with the right skills and guidance, they have the energy and creativity to become potential entrepreneurs. Although teens learn about college and other post-graduation paths in school, they do not learn specifically about what it takes to become a business-owner or to think entrepreneurially.

By participating in the contest, the teens will gain presentation and public speaking skills and they will also combat the summer slide by conducting research and writing a business plan. They will learn how to analyze their surroundings and everyday experiences to develop business ideas as well. They will learn how to use the library’s proprietary databases to research competitors, identify a target market, calculate profit margins, and present a fully-fledged business plan to a bank. They will also learn that becoming a young entrepreneur is realistic, attainable, and a potential career goal.

Although this program is open to all teens in the community, it is specifically aimed at our underserved populations. In discussions with our local housing authority, we learned that many of teens in government-funded housing complexes already have some of these ideas. In the summer, they advertise babysitting services, cleaning services, manicures, and other initiatives. These teens possess an entrepreneurial spirit, but lack the information and expertise to realize greater success.  A chief outcome we hope to achieve is to show them how to grow their nascent ideas into real businesses.


  • Find local business owners to participate. If you are able to include young entrepreneurs as your speakers, their experiences will be great examples for the teens.
  • For funding, consider finding a local sponsor. We reached out to a bank, and they believed in the purpose and necessity for this program series. They also receive recognition by being listed on our promotional materials and Start-Up Cecil T-shirts.
  • Create a business plan template. Although our teens may come in with business ideas, they do not know how to write a business plan. The purpose of our template is to show them the major components of a business plan that they will need to research.
  • Decide on judging criteria and regulations. Will your teens be allowed to work in groups? When will their business plans be due? Can they use posters, PowerPoint, and videos in their presentations?
  • Choose prizes. Due to our sponsorship, we are able to offer monetary prizes to our winners and participation prizes (a T-shirt, small business book, and business cards) to help the teens start their businesses. If you are unable to attain sponsorship, a less expensive participation prize is the business cards. We are creating the cards for the teens, so the only cost is the paper to print them out.
  • Figure out the judges. Will you ask local business owners, council members, school officials, library staff, or members of your Friends organization to judge the competition?
  • Promote the program. We created a flyer and brochures that will be displayed in each of our branches. Our system-wide library staff will distribute these brochures to teens and families. Furthermore, we will reach out to the Boys and Girls Club, the housing authority, 4-H, the public and private schools, the local chapter of Future Business Leaders of America, and the homeschooling networks. We will promote the contest on social media, in the newspaper, the library newsletter, and on our website.


We will consider the number of participants and the quality of business plans and presentations to evaluate the program, as well as participant feedback. Within the first six months, we will reconnect with participants in the program to ascertain their current phase of development and if there are additional resources with which we can connect them to ensure greater or sustained success.

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