published Monday, December 9th, 2013

Chattanooga's entrepreneurial empowerment group LAUNCH gives teenagers chance to shine

"Loud" isn't just the working name for Demetric Bush and Ashunti Garner's startup project. It's also how the audience reacted when the duo won first place in a high school competition.

On Sunday night, Chattanooga's entrepreneurial empowerment group LAUNCH hosted its third annual high school competition at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Of the 18 combined group entrants, who gave five-minute presentations to some of Chattanooga's most prominent entrepreneurs, Bush and Garner walked away with top honors and a cool $10,000 in startup services, such as legal advice and expert backing.

They aspire for their "Loud" concept, which aims to create mobile art classes in Chattanooga's urban areas, to further the city's sense of expression. Anyone can come. Anyone can create.

The Tyner Academy brains stood tall among their colleagues from the Howard School as well as new entrant Brainerd High School.

"I knew we had a good idea, but it's just so assuring for people to believe in us," Garner added. "We want to open your eyes to a world you didn't even knew existed."

The proposals at hand were as diverse as the minds delivering them: There were new clothing lines. A dog collar with a built-in GPS and heart monitor. A recording studio. Customized backpacks. School newspapers.

An alternative beverage -- "Exquisite" -- brought home second place for Johnny Richie and DaMika Cox.

"Most of our schools are full of acidic, unhealthy drinks," Richie said to his peer group. "We're targeting students because they are the future."

He and Cox brought samples of their healthier, fruit-based juice drinks -- watermelon and strawberry -- for the judges to sample.

"I'm an athlete, and he's in a band," Cox said. "We don't want sugary drinks."

And the decision to bring samples wasn't just sweet. It was smart.

"This is really a great thing to have in a pitch," said judge Jonathan Bragdon.

High 5 Fashion -- a five-girl clothing group from Brainerd High School -- took home third place. Above anything else, the competition gave the next class of Chattanooga's business leaders and thinkers a chance to sharpen their skills on a public stage.

"It's normally not a fast venture, but these students need lots of support in the process," said Hal Bowling, executive director of LAUNCH. "We teach them that if you can't find the job you want ... create it."

Contact staff writer Jeff LaFave at jlafave@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow him on Twitter at @presslafave.

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