JA Student Entrepreneurs Take Home $100,000 Grand Prize at Denver Startup Week Pitch Competition

Melanie Zhou and Mia Hayden

Two JA students brought home the grand prize at Denver Startup Week’s Pitch Competition on Thursday evening, winning a package including cash, products, and services valued at $100,000. High school students Mia Hayden and Melanie Zhou were shocked and thrilled as their names were announced as the winners for their business, Oasis Mental Health, after competing against adult entrepreneurs who have been planning and perfecting their pitches for months.

It’s the community’s support they most appreciate though, after their school population encountered two difficult tragedies a year-and-a-half ago. In February 2018, one of their friends died by suicide. A month later, their beloved principal passed away after a long battle with cancer. With these difficult events, Melanie and Mia noticed a need for more mental health support for the students in their school.

Utilizing their financial and entrepreneurship skills they gained from JA, they had the idea to sell merchandise, with proceeds helping to fund mental health resources in their school, while also destigmatizing the mental health conversation. Their business, Oasis Mental Health, was born.

Last Fall, they competed for and won a $10,000 social entrepreneurship grant, which allowed them to rapidly expand Oasis to five other schools and other school districts.

This year was the first time that Denver Startup Week invited Junior Achievement, alongside Young Americans Center for Financial Education, to take part in the Pitch Competition. It began on Tuesday with just the teen entrepreneurs. Junior Achievement and Young Americans Center each hand selected two youth businesses to pitch to Denver Startup Week judges. Winning Tuesday’s competition, Melanie and Mia progressed to Denver Startup Week’s full semi-final round, competing against 15 adult entrepreneurs. The pack was then narrowed down to six, including the two JA students, for the finals.

It was already a banner summer for Melanie and Mia, even before winning the Denver Startup Week Pitch Competition. In June, Mia and Melanie were honored as Youth Entrepreneurs of the Year by EY at the company’s annual entrepreneurship gala. As they accepted their award, they said, “As we open the mental health conversation and expand to more schools, we carry the skills and support of Junior Achievement. It’s because of organizations like them that students like us are able to achieve our dreams. We may be teenagers, but with help from you all, we’ve been able to improve the lives of others one person at a time.”