Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs Announces Winners of Annual Demo Day Competitions for Innovative Startup Ideas

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Aug. 2, 2021) — The Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs (GSE) kept pushing boundaries and attaining new heights this summer as it added a second session to give 120 Kentucky teens, up from 72 in previous years, an opportunity to explore their entrepreneurial spirits and pitch their business startup ideas at two highly competitive Demo Days on June 26 and July 24.

More than 300 high school students applied to participate in the two residential 2021 GSE sessions that ran from June 6 – 26 and July 5 – 24 at Northern Kentucky University (NKU).

“I didn’t think the Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs could get any more exciting but they proved me wrong by expanding and holding not one but two Demo Days,” said Gov. Andy Beshear. “Every year these young entrepreneurs amaze me with their energy, creativity and excitement during their incredible journeys. The most exciting part is that the GSE summer session is just the beginning for them as they go home and use what they have learned and their new connections to make Kentucky a better place to live and work in the future.”

Teams of students developed business models, designed prototypes and pitched their startup ideas at NKU to a prestigious panel of entrepreneur judges and an audience of 300 during each of the Demo Day events. Out of 15 innovative startup ideas for a service or product developed during each session, three teams of teen entrepreneurs earned cash prizes to continue their ventures.

“As an educator, I’m excited when I see the passion and growth that GSE ignites in these young entrepreneurs during these short, intense summer sessions. The program often awakens a sense of exploration and joy of discovery that goes on long after the summer ends. They learn and are inspired by mentors and peers who have the same passion for innovation, problem solving and competition that they do. The old proverb that says ‘iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another’ is certainly true with GSE,” said Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, who is also the secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.

The 2021 Demo Day finalists were the following:

GSE Session 1 (June 6 – 26)

First Place – BranchOut received $1,000 for the development of an app that connects high school students to educational and career opportunities in Kentucky. Team members were Joleen Gima, a junior at Harry Doss High School in Jefferson County; Jessa Zaheri, a sophomore at Scott County High School in Scott County; and Bella Marita, a sophomore at Notre Dame Academy in Kenton County.

Second Place – Fill It received $750 for the creation of a refillable laundry detergent system to reduce plastic waste while letting families use their favorite laundry detergents. Team members were Charlie Gorman, a junior at Highlands High School in Campbell County; Jenna Coles, a sophomore at Logan County High School in Logan County; Parker Cleveland, a junior at Highlands High School in Campbell County; and Sarah Freeland, a sophomore at Oldham County High School in Oldham County.

Third Place – Secura received $500 for the development of an app that connects women instantaneously based on location and need, allowing them to take self-defense classes together and access other opportunities and tools to defend themselves from an assault. Team members were Avery Shacklette, a junior at Meade County High School in Meade County; Savannah King, a junior at Highlands High School in Campbell County; Jill Heffernan, a junior at Sacred Heart Academy in Jefferson County; and Ella Stahl, a sophomore at Campbell County High School in Campbell County.

Demo Day Session 1 judges included Naashom Marx, senior manager of Strategic Innovation at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG); John Shaw-Woo, founder and CEO of Noir Black Chamber of Commerce; and Candice Matthews Brackeen, general partner at Lightship Capital. Sheena Allen, a 2019 Forbes 30 under 30 Entrepreneur and founder of CapWay, was the keynote speaker.

Session 1 participant Gima said, "I learned what an entrepreneur is and what it means to be one. Sacrifice, failure and pivot, for me, all have a new meaning. If you were to have asked me a year ago what the word ‘entrepreneur’ meant, I would’ve had no idea! It's so crazy to believe that because I am now an embodiment of an entrepreneur. Being in such a positive and uplifting environment, I came out of my shell and made lifelong connections. GSE has shown me my potential, and now it's my turn to take what I have learned and make the best of it.”

GSE Session 2 (July 5 – 24, 2021)

First Place – TEHRA received $1,000 for the development of an online marketplace that allows consumers to select from a variety of eco-friendly, sustainable home resources, from lumber to light bulbs. Team members were Divine Irakiza, a sophomore at South Warren High School in Warren County; Charles Tompkins, a sophomore at Elizabethtown High School in Hardin County; McKenna Sun, a junior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Fayette County; and Nathan Palley, a sophomore at Henry Clay High School in Fayette County.

Second Place – Nexxus Bond received $750 for the creation of a durable and safe cover for chemotherapy ports, allowing patients to move with less fear of getting an infection or damaging their port. Team members were Katherine Coale, a sophomore at Bethlehem High School in Nelson County; Riley Weber Horowitz, a junior at Campbell County High School in Campbell County; Colin Esmeier, a sophomore at Covington Catholic High School in Kenton County; and Ethan Biddle, a sophomore at Johnson Central High School in Johnson County.

Third Place – SwimSafe received $500 for the development of an educational water safety organization   that caters specifically to autistic children and their affinity for water. Team members were Kendall Harper, a junior at Western Hills High School in Franklin County; Cole Chambers, a junior at Christian Academy of Louisville in Jefferson County; Brenna Lambert, a freshman at Great Crossing High School in Scott County; and Ellie Thornsbury, a junior at duPont Manual High School in Jefferson County.

Judges for Demo Day Session 2 included Abby Ober, Program Director at Blue North KY; Kayla Meisner, Licensing and New Ventures Manager at Kentucky Commercialization Ventures; and Mike Dutton of eGateway Capital. Nate Morris, founder of Lexington-based Morris Industries and its signature asset Rubicon, was the keynote speaker.

While building a working team, teens in each session networked with over 20 seasoned entrepreneurs, attended a local pitch competition and spent over 200 hours developing their business models. Businesses from across the commonwealth including AppHarvest, Cork Leadership, Wicked Sheets, Oriental Wok, The Harlan Beer Company, Awesome Inc., C-90, The Mountain Association, Smoove Creations and Story Louisville welcomed the young entrepreneurs, sharing the challenges and success of their businesses while allowing unparalleled access to the inner workings of day-to-day business.

“The 2021 GSE experience has been explosively successful,” said Natasha Sams, GSE’s executive director. “We served a record 120 teens, representing the expansive future of business and entrepreneurship in the commonwealth. Kentucky is making enormous strides in the national arena of entrepreneurship, and GSE is proud to be the catalyst that is nurturing, inspiring and enabling our youth to unleash their innate entrepreneurial spirits for the economic betterment of their communities and our great state.”

Session 2 participant Biddle said, “GSE gave me perspective on how to lift myself up economically. I know that if I want something in life, I need to grab the opportunity and take it. I saw that opportunity and learning experience in GSE. I will take home what I learn and improve my life and community.”

Because of strong partnerships with entities such as the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, the Cabinet for Economic Development, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky (TMMK), PNC and numerous public and private supporters like the Marksbury Family Foundation and Nate Morris of Rubicon Global, GSE is completely free for selected entrepreneurs. Alumni of GSE gain access to more than $5 million in scholarship funding opportunities to attend colleges and universities in Kentucky, high school class credit and a statewide network of entrepreneurial support.

GSE is a relative newcomer on the list of Kentucky’s Governor's Schools, having opened to its first group of students in 2013. Since 2013, more than 600 student entrepreneurs have gained vital entrepreneurial skills through the program to use as they enter the workplace or continue into higher education.

GSE alumni have launched more than 20 new businesses, filed multiple patents and developed new ideas and relationships that sow the seeds for more business formation. Dozens of alumni have chosen to enroll in entrepreneurial programs at Kentucky universities and attribute this decision to the inspiration they received by attending GSE in high school. GSE fosters and empowers the commonwealth’s future business owners and community leaders, giving these teens the support they need to go from high school students to business owners.

Applications for the 2022 Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs will open in November. Parents, educators, entrepreneurs and teens who believe grit, a growth mindset and creativity in problem solving tell as much about a young person as good grades and test scores, can learn more about the GSE at