New competition connects rural students to business mentorship, scholarships

Boise-area entrepreneurs sat elbow-to-elbow with Murtaugh high school students, Wednesday, trading tips for the professional world, as the groups talked business over lunch.

Professionals met with the aspiring business owners at the Trailhead Basecamp co-working space in downtown Boise, brought together by the first iteration of a new industry-backed education initiative called You Lead Idaho.

You Lead Idaho is a business competition organized by Trailhead to help encourage students from rural schools to pursue education after high school. The competition gives teams of kids from rural schools the chance to learn about business and innovation, pitch a new venture and potentially win scholarship money.

This fall, teams of three to six kids in Murtaugh, Melba, American Falls, Blackfoot and Dayton have been studying business through an Idaho Digital Learning Academy course, and meeting virtually with business mentors who help them design business ventures to pitch for competition in late January.

The group with the best business pitch wins $7,500 in scholarship money and another $2,500 for their school. Funding for the program was donated by KeyBank.

Students from Murtaugh High School listen to a panel of business owners at the Trailhead offices in downtown Boise.

“It’s really amazing,” said Aliah Tellez, a junior on the You Lead team. “Not everyone in the state of Idaho has this opportunity and the fact that they chose our school means a lot. Not all of us have parents that can afford (college) and so if we get the opportunity for scholarships it will impact our lives.”

Tiam Rastegar, the Executive Director of Trailhead, said the competition was inspired by – and modeled after – a past effort by Boise entrepreneur and Trailhead founder Faisal Shah.

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The purpose is to help encourage students at rural Idaho high schools with low go-on rates, to consider continuing their education in some form after college.

“We see a huge opportunity to plant seeds in youth to create talent out of them,” Rastegar said. “Our goal isn’t to turn all of them into entrepreneurs, our goal is to expose them to the idea, the tools and the methods.”

The program also helps address a rural-urban divide, Rastegar said, by using technology to connect students with far-away mentors and resources and pitch their ideas remotely.

The six students on the Murtaugh team are the first to visit the Trailhead offices in Boise, where they spent Wednesday touring local companies like Shah’s firm AppDetex and speaking with founders of Lumineye, a business that builds wall-penetrating radar for first responders.

Many of the kids were inspired to pursue entrepreneurship because business ownership runs in the family.

Jameal McDaniel was inspired by his grandfather, who ran an HVAC company. McDaniel plans to open his own heating and cooling business because he wants a job where he can work with his hands — and he thinks it’s a good fit for his social skills.

“I’m a social butterfly. I talk a lot. I don’t care who you are, I’ll talk to you,” he said. “I think that skill is something that will go for me. I’ll talk to customers, you know, about their problems, and fix it.”

If he wins scholarship money, McDaniel plans to use it to pay for advanced HVAC courses beyond high school.

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