Granite Technical Institute’s student wins national pitch competition; new CEO program ‘lifechanging’Aug 10, 2023 02:01PM ● By Julie Slama
Skyline High student Harleen Saini already knew she wanted a career in business when she applied for the inaugural year of the Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities, or CEO, program at Granite Technical Institute.
“In a lot of the business classes I’ve taken and the Academy of Finance I’ve been a part of, I learned foundational information; the CEO program really brought that all together,” she said.
It also taught Saini the practical applications to become an entrepreneur, starting with her business pitch.
The Taylorsville senior is the national champion in the pitch contest of the CEO program, which has provided more than 4,700 high school graduates nationwide with opportunities to become entrepreneurs through partnerships with businesses and mentors.
This is GTI’s first year of participating; it is one of 70 programs nationwide.
At 6:30 a.m. shortly before the end of the school year, GTI hosted a CEO pitch watch party, where the 17-member class also had a national third-place finish with Nadia Ferguson, a Skyline High classmate of Saini’s with Nadia’s Necessities’ body-wrap towel, and honorable mention with Austin Beverley, a Cottonwood High senior who pitched BlackTine taxidermy cleaning services.
“It was a video submission from all these students across the nation. There were 398 competitors, including me,” said Saini, who also is a Skyline High service scholar. “I was so surprised because I wasn’t expecting it at all. I was just super thankful to my CEO class, my mentor and my teacher, Ms. (Erin) Paulsen, because they believed in me.”
Before the pitch competition, students watched a video from the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship, who created the CEO program, instructing them how to structure their business pitches.
“They reminded us to state the problem, that our solution needed a hook and other tips,” she said. “We were given free rein of how we wanted to present our products what we wanted in the video. It just had to be under 30 seconds in one take and there could be no edits.
Saini was able to share her business, STEM for Seedlings, a kit that combines garden seeds with STEM experiments for children, with the kick line, “Stop worrying about your child’s screen time and watch them get hooked on green time,” in 29 seconds.
“One of the main reasons I’ve wanted to make my product a business is so I can give back to the community that has supported me and donate a bunch of kids in Title I schools. Volunteering has taught me so much and I’ve learned the importance of doing that,” she said.
The submitted videos were reviewed by three business owners from across the country.
“Through my leadership experiences throughout high school and the competitions I’ve done, I learned how to speak publicly so I don’t have that fear anymore,” she said, referring to her positions she has held with DECA and FBLA business chapters at her school. “From the pitch competition, I received $1,000 for winning that I can put toward my business, which was amazing. All three of us also were given options to take leadership workshops. I’m planning to take mine in August.”
Saini, who plans to continue her business while studying finance at the University of Utah, said that during the CEO program, she and her classmates met weekly with business owners and representatives, toured local companies, and were paired with business leaders as mentors to learn entrepreneurial skills.
“Andrew Thomas, who was my mentor, works as a chief risk officer for Foursight Capital. He was super helpful helping me start my company and gave me a bunch of financial advice on what I should be doing,” she said. “Having all these opportunities by networking with so many business leaders, I was blown away. I gained much more than I was ever expecting.”
By the end of the program, six students had registered their businesses and all students participated in GTI’s first trade show, where they got to showcase their businesses and sell items to the public, said Paulsen, GTI’s CEO program facilitator.
“The students took what they learned from professionals to elevate their business concepts and turn them into realities,” she said. “It was cool to see them navigate the process. At first, many of them were scared and nervous. They’re engaged and got involved in their own learning. Through this, they learned how to fail and how to turn it around and succeed.”
Senior Austin Beverley created his business to fill a need in the industry.
“As time goes by, people’s taxidermy collects dust, oil and even bugs that potentially destroy their mounts, so there’s a need for a professional cleaning service,” he said. “I made a business plan, a marketing plan and figured out what my profit margins would be when I set up the business.”
Already, Beverley has been offered a partnership with an existing company, which he turned down, so he could continue to run his business while attending Utah State University where he will major in outdoor product and design.
“I’d love to expand the service from not just serving Utah, but also southern Idaho and into Wyoming,” he said, adding that he’d like to have a booth at an upcoming hunting expo.
Beverley said he took about one month to prepare his pitch, which included one of his family member’s trophy — a mounted deer — on the wall, for the national competition.
“I included the problem, the solution, and what I had to offer them,” he said about his services that also include bear and cougar rug cleaning. “I was shocked to see all three of us be recognized nationally.”
Beverley applied to be in the program at the urging of a friend.
“Once I got in, I was all in,” he said, adding that he gave up golfing on the school team to devote more time to the program. “I used to be such an introvert, but through talking to my classmates and needing to talk to my mentor (Downeast CEO Rich Israelsen) and business leaders, I’m anything but that now. My mentor is someone I trust, and he believes in what I’ m doing. Whenever I need assistance, he’s there 24-7 and said he would continue to be so when I’m in college.”
Beverley also credits the support of his classmates in the program and Paulsen, who allowed us “to see what we can do on our own in the real world.”
“The CEO program has made the biggest impact on my life; it has changed my perspective on business as well. I learned every business leader has a story and there is meaning to it. It inspires people like us to start our businesses and excel. This program has been the biggest lifechanging course I’ve ever taken. I’m so engaged in it, and in my business. Before I didn’t have the knowledge, the mindset nor the discipline I do today. I don’t know what I’d be doing if it wasn’t for the CEO program,” he said.
Paulsen, who introduced the program to the school district, also is grateful to the community’s businesses to be part of the partnership between businesses and education.
“It’s been awesome to work together. The business leaders are so willing to support the kids and give them feedback,” she said. “It’s been a benefit to see these kids apply what they learn in the real world. They have enthusiasm for what they’re doing. It’s been lifechanging for them.” λ