Lansing Youth Startup Expo: Sparking innovation and entrepreneurship into future generations

On March 27, 183 students, their parents, and friends gathered at the Lansing Center for a competition – but unlike a sporting event or a musical competition that many expect from middle and high school students, this was an entrepreneurial competition centered around innovation and business sense, and the winners went home with something a lot bigger than a gold medal. 

The Fifth Annual Youth Startup Expo, sponsored by the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) was the finale to the Lansing Youth Startup Challenge Initiative. As Initiative connects school districts and youth programs to help “young entrepreneurs “access and become familiar with essential business development tools, resources, and training focused on building critical business skills at a younger age. Other events that take place as part of this Initiative include: 5 Minute Tops events, Newcomers New Ideas event, and a summer camp, which will be launched for the first time this summer. 

The Newcomers New Ideas event promotes youth entrepreneurship with new arrival refugee youth, in a partnership with the Refugee Development Center. Participating students come from Burma, Bhutan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and more.
“It’s important that we help our youth see entrepreneurship as a viable career path, empowering the next generation to think critically about their business ideas and helping them build the confidence needed to pursue those ideas, contributes to the future vitality of our region’s economy,” expressed Tony Willis, Director of New Economy at LEAP, in a release about the event.

Like many of LEAP’s initiatives, the Youth Startup Expo is more than just a place to gather and cultivate ideas, it is also a competition. 101 business ideas were showcased at the event from middle and high school students across the region. Students from Charlotte High School, Eaton RESA, Everett High School, Grand, Ledge High School, Leslie Middle School, Maple Valley Jr./Sr. High School, Mason High School, Potterville High School, Stockbridge High School, Willow Ridge Elementary, Wilson Talent Center, and YEA! Academy participated.

Beyond the energy of the space, the business ideas submitted were unique, interesting, and varied.  Along the brick and mortar traditional style models were businesses like bakeries, restaurants, storefronts, coffee shops, and fitness centers. On the innovative and more adventurous end, there were welders, dog/pet products, private investigators, a makeup company, and a few other exciting ventures. 

In order to compete, all of the participants had to submit a business plan, develop a pitch presentation, and create a booth display for the Expo. In order to win one of the cash prizes, which totaled $10,000 in 29 categories, the participants had to be evaluated and judged by more than 60 business, education, and community leaders. 
The business idea that won the Grand Champion was Emily’s Farm. This business plan focused on producing antibiotic, steroid, and hormone free, chicken, pork, and turkey. The owner of Emily’s Farm took home $1,000 in cash. 

There were many other great business plans and ideas that won in different categories, others included:

  • 1st Place Overall Business Plan: Passion – this is a biodegradable business focused on people of all sizes as well as the environment. Their business plan emphasized the need for people of all sizes to have affordable and stylish clothes made from textiles that are organic and cleanly manufactured, meaning that no harm is done to the environment in the making of these clothes. 
  • 1st Place Table Pitch: Malibu’s Bath Bombs – this business plan aims to create an alternative to toxic and unsafe dog shampoo. This product would be flea and tick repellent, and will use essential oils and organic products as its base. 
  • 1st Place Booth Display: Leslie Area Sports Center – this young entrepreneur would create an affordable gym and recreation center in the town of Leslie so that residents in the town don’t have to go very far to play sports or get a workout. 

While the kid-CEOs and their ideas were certainly the focus of this event, LEAP also awarded a $1,000 prize to a local educator as well, for their help and instruction in business skills to these students. That award went to Jassen Dowling, a teacher at Maple Valley Jr./Sr. High School. 

“This is my favorite event of the year,” says Bob Trezise, President and CEO of LEAP. “I could not have been more excited to share the day with some of the amazing kid CEO’s from across our region.”

For more information about the Lansing Youth Startup Challenge Initiative, visit  

Photos © Dave Trumpie


Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.

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