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Young Entrepreneurs Shape Business to Fit Their Own Reality

YEA! 2022 Winners Take Home $5K in Investment

Article by Melinda Gipson

Photography by Marty Shoup, Blue Lion Multimedia

Originally published in Leesburg Lifestyle

This year’s graduating class of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) in Loudoun seemed somehow both younger in age and more grounded in reality. An extremely diverse group, in terms of demographics as well as their approach to business, all were able to leverage their pandemic isolation into a unique perspective on what kinds of products and services they could make that would delight customers and make money.

The entrepreneurial middle-school and high-schoolers who participate in the 7-month program run by the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce learn how to “make a job” not “take a job,” and to build an actual business plan. Of 22 local student entrepreneurs, seven received a total of $5,000 in funding from YEA!’s investor panel. 

Their awards included: $1,500 to William Just, a sophomore at Independence High School for his Loudoun Candle (LoCA) venture designed to handcraft candles, using 100% natural soy wax, that is uniquely inspired by locations, geography, and the rich history of Loudoun County. His pitch: “These candles can emotionally transport consumers back to a specific location or help them replay a special memory. The candle industry is strong and continuously growing. There is no local company that creates candles specific to Loudoun. Residents can celebrate their community when they burn a candle, and when tourists purchase a candle, they are able to take home “a part” of a special place they visited." 

$1,000 to Praggy Sangeetham of Stone Bridge High School and Priyanka Thaker of Lightridge High School who teamed to form P Squared. Priyanka describes their product as a safety attachment device with a built-in tracker and a button that links up to an app where a person can put their emergency contact. A simple click on the button will reach out to that contact with a message including the identity and location of the sender. Priyanka, who has taught herself to code using White Hat Jr., said her inspiration came from a scary encounter she had with a street peddler while on vacation. Praggy said, “We will be taking other loans and start a Kickstarter campaign to raise more funds to actually start our business. We will use this money to create real prototypes and plan consultations with app developers.”

$1,000 to Reem Khalil of Farmwell Station Middle School, whose business is called, TaVue which has set its sights on “the future of healthy skincare using chemical-free Rosewater.” She says she’ll use her investment on start-up costs and to “promote healthy skincare and confidence among Generation Z.” Her plan is to go to Morocco this summer to find a manufacturer for her line. Besides having a mentor to help her write a realistic business plan, she appreciates the Academy because it, “taught me how to be a good businesswoman. It taught me to take opportunities and to be patient because wonderful things take time.”

$500 to Logan McMillon of Independence High School, whose company HydroDripz would sell colorful, customized hydro-ripped gaming accessories. He says, “The gaming industry is on a massive incline in sales and popularity, and much of gaming equipment is mass-produced, but each gamer is unique." HydroDripz uses the art form of hydro dipping to let gamers express themselves with a multi-colored accessory.” Embracing his own uniqueness sparked his product inspiration. “As I got older, I started to realize that being different is what made me, me. I decided to take pride in my background and culture and started showing it off every moment I could, resulting in the green, yellow and red color scheme in my logo to represent the Guyanese flag.” His takeaway from YEA! was “the template on how to become a successful entrepreneur no matter what idea I have.”

$500 to Michael Tiger Combest, of Mercer Middle School for his Happy Cone Sno-Ball Shop, offering self-serve New Orleans-style sno-cones. Clearly Tiger’s other major talent is storytelling as he pitches, “It's Finally Summer and people are craving something delicious, cold, and refreshing. In comes a refreshing, self-serve, mobile Sno-Ball business called the  Happy Cone Sno-Ball Shop!” His brain-child is packed with nostalgia as his grandfather had a similar sno-ball business in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he was a professor. His innovation is mobilizing the business. “I've already made my website and a finalized prototype, now I just need a truck to hold all our stuff.” He says YEA! “makes it so that you can have your own vision in creating your business so that anything you think is cool can be implemented.”

$500 to Samhita Kotamraju of Farmwell Station Middle School for VizMe, a visualization software that eliminates the ‘one image for all sizes’ concept in e-commerce clothing stores. She explains, “Not all of us are size 2 models! VizMe will allow online shoppers to visualize clothes on someone their size. I think there is a demand for this product because there is no way one picture of one size could possibly be enough to help everyone visualize how the clothing will look on them.” She is reaching out to local online businesses to see if they would be interested in hosting the first version of VizMe. “What makes being an entrepreneur exciting for me is knowing that there is never an end – I can keep innovating and expanding forever.” 

If you know a budding entrepreneur or want to mentor the next generation of Loudoun’s business leaders, check out

  • 2022 YEA! Project Leaders and their Instructors
  • William Just
  • Praggy Sangeetham and Priyanka Thaker
  • Reem Khalil
  • Logan McMillon
  • Michael (Tiger) Combest
  • Samhita Kotamraju
  • At YEA! Graduation
  • Praggy Sangeetham and Priyanka Thaker at Graduation
  • Instructors Left to Right: Eric Byrd, Kindra Dionne, (William Just-Student-Investor Panel Winner), Chris Ricci, Kristine Jacobson
  • Faith Shoup, Loudoun Chamber Program Administrator, and a YEA! Graduate Jordan Turnquist
  • Full 2022 YEA! Graduating Class