Teen entrepreneur at Howard High School wins funding

photo D'Angelo Foster pitches an idea for "GOTU" at the entrepreneurship contest Sunday at the UTC Fine Arts Center for creators and innovators from the Talented Tenth program at Howard School. The contest put on the the LAUNCH organization awarded financial support and services to his business idea.

Investors with the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund agree -- D'Angelo Foster has a pretty sweet idea.

The 10th-grade chocolatier won over the CRF judges at the first Howard School Entrepreneurship Competition with his pitch for a business that sells boutique chocolates with exotic flair. His prize includes $2,500 to get his business off the ground plus $7,500 worth of meeting time with local lawyers, accountants, marketers and designers.

But Foster wasn't the only winner at Sunday's competition, held in the UTC Fine Arts Center. The event culminated months of work by the Howard High School Talented Tenth program and career resource group LAUNCH, which has been working with the school's most driven students as part of an effort to bring job growth to South Chattanooga.

"There's never a bad time for chocolate -- for people or the economy," Foster told attendees at the Sunday contest.

In his pitch, he explained that chocolate sales are little affected by market swings and discussed possible retailers and target consumers for his product.

Foster also described how his company, GOTU, would separate itself from other chocolatiers by imprinting foreign phrases into chocolates and wrapping them in packaging depicting images of other countries. He brought samples made with candied ginger, curry powder and oranges to imitate the flavors of Asia, India and Jamaica.

These components of GOTU, he explained, are designed to encourage the eater to "go to" another land by appealing to taste, smell, sight and hearing.

After awarding Foster first place, the CRF judges had an awkwardly scripted but endearing surprise. They were so impressed by Foster's submission, they said, that they would like to partner with him, offering $2,500 in exchange for 25 percent of GOTU's ownership.

Foster talked the venture fund group down to 10 percent ownership by promising to base production in Chattanooga and to visit the Company Lab, a center for entrepreneurs and job trainees.

Though Foster was the winner, LAUNCH Executive Director Hal Bowling might have been the person most pleased with the contest.

LAUNCH, an organization of local business leaders, gives job training, provides professional mentoring and promotes local entrepreneurealism in low-income, high-unemployment areas of Chattanooga.

"Entreprenuerialism is a way out of joblessness," Bowling said.

The class at Howard is LAUNCH's first foray into working with students.

Class facilitator Jonathan Mansfield described the challenges, saying, "It's a fun but delicate project to foster creativity while remaining feasible."

Howard's Talented Tenth program teaches leadership and debate so students can influence their peers, the government and the economy, director Mason West III said. West and Bowling incorporated the entrepreneurialism class into the Talented Tenth curriculum a few months ago.

In keeping with the program, Sunday's contest also was a scholastic evaluation. Foster and his competitors, designers of a pager for remotes and a backpack sporting electronics chargers, no doubt passed.