The Power of Youth: Student Entrepreneurs Compete in Startup Challenge

By Kent Bernhard, Jr., recently featured on

They’re converging this week from around the globe, from Russia, from South Africa, and more than a dozen other countries.

For Kevin Langley, a veteran Louisiana entrepreneur, the 30 young people who have built businesses while students represent the the next wave of entrepreneurship. The student business people are descending on the New York Stock Exchange starting Thursday afternoon for an intense competition, the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA), run by the Entrepreneurs Organization, the group Langley leads as global chairman.

“These young entrepreneurs are so smart and tenacious, you can’t help but have a sense of pride for what they are accomplishing while knowing exactly what they are contributing to: new jobs, new opportunities, new global relationships, and breaking the barriers of poverty, discrimination, economic instability,” Langley said in a conversation with

The students’ businesses range from a Web-hosting service to a cookie bakery its owner started when he was 13. They’ll be occupying the New York Stock Exchange all day Friday for an intense competition to determine which student-led business is the strongest.

If the past is prologue, the judges can expect to see some impressive talent on display (full disclosure, I will be a final-round judge for the second year in a row).

For example, 2010 winner of the competition Brent Skoda went on to found two new companies after his victory. Finalist Catherine Cook, along with her brothers David and Geoff, sold the company they cofounded, , for $100 million to Quepasa and are in the process of growing that company globally.

The contest is sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation and the New York Stock Exchange and is a featured event of Kauffman’s Global Entrepreneurship Week.

“GSEA provides both a window and an opportunity for business owners to understand the possibilities and challenges that young entrepreneurs face around the world. But it also gives them a clear perspective on how starting a business, even as young as 18, can build jobs, support local economies and communities, and help create real leaders for tomorrow,” Langley said.

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