Meet the young entrepreneurs giving adults a run for their money

Nowhere is entrepreneurship more real and exciting for youth than at Denver Startup Week, weeklong event promoting innovation through workshops, presentations, sessions, networking and more. Junior Achievement-Rocky Mountain, Inc. (JA) has partnered with Denver Startup Week and Young Americans Center for Financial Education for the third year in a row to offer exciting opportunities for high school students to join the entrepreneurial movement. This year, two groups of JA students have been hand selected to compete in the Denver Startup Week Youth Pass – Pitch Challenge where they’ll present their businesses to a panel of judges. The winning team will earn a coveted spot in the Denver Startup Week Pitch Challenge among Denver’s top startup companies.

Jack McConnell and Christian Barnett
Jack and his business partner Christian accept an award from JA Business Week Company Advisors

The JA students selected for the Denver Startup Week Youth Pass – Pitch Challenge 2019 are Jack McConnell of Katch and Mia Hayden and Melanie Zhou of Oasis Mental Health.

Jack, a senior at Boulder High School, launched Katch this summer at JA Business Week and won first place in the JA Venture Academy Challenge. His company provides customers with secure boxes for home delivery packages, increasing the ease and safety of online shopping. The boxes are designed to adapt to the rapidly evolving trends of the shipping industry.

Jack sees his age as an advantage in the startup landscape.

“My generation has grown up in a unique atmosphere where we have developed different consumer habits,” Jack says. “Gen Zers will embrace these evolving technologies, and young entrepreneurs are uniquely situated to identify market opportunities. Katch is a perfect complement to allow this industry to thrive.”

Oasis Mental Health was started last year by ThunderRidge High School seniors, Mia and Melanie, when they noticed an increased need for mental health support at their school upon their classmate’s suicide. Utilizing the business skills they gained through JA, they began selling merchandise to generate funds for high school mental health services. Oasis builds comfortable physical spaces in schools where students can connect with counselors, support systems and resources.

Melanie Zhou and Mia Hayden
Mia and Melanie wear their signature teal Oasis t-shirts

Melanie says, “We want mental health to be something you can address without feeling uncomfortable.”

Mia and Melanie competed for and won a $10,000 social entrepreneurship grant, which allowed them to expand Oasis to five other schools and other school districts. EY also honored them as Youth Entrepreneurs of the Year at the company’s annual entrepreneurship gala.

Their competitive edge comes from their unique grassroots model and innovative approach.

According to Oasis’s robust business plan, “There is no other existing company that works to build spaces in public school specifically designated for mental health education and recognition. Because Oasis is a movement from the ‘inside out’ by high school students for high school students, the impact will be deeper on individuals.”

The Denver Startup Week Youth Pass – Pitch Challenge is open to the public, and community members are encouraged to come and witness the innovation firsthand.

Denver Startup Week Youth Pass – Pitch Challenge

Tuesday, September 17 from 1:00-2:30 p.m.

1245 Champa Street

Register to attend