Fort Mill Times

Fort Mill pair have a head for business

They banked on big fish and body fuel, and they did it about as well as anyone in the state.

Recent Fort Mill High School graduate Jesse Horine, 18, and rising junior Jeremy LaPointe, 16, took two of the top three spots at the June 18 YEScarolina Business Plan Competition.

The contest was the third annual event in which high school students create and submit business plans, then present them for competition at the county and state level.

Fort Mill High got two slots in its first year competing. Horine took second, with $2,000 in cash and an October trip to nationals in Silicon Valley. LaPointe took third and $1,000 cash.

“It’s pretty cool to see a bunch of young entreprenuers that have businesses, and it’s because of programs like this,” said Horine, who heads to College of Charleston this fall.

Horine’s business is SouthernFly. He plans to manufacture, market and sell apparel and equipment around the many variations of minnow fly he created for mountain, saltwater and lake fly-fishing. He’s promoting his product online and through social media.

Last Wednesday morning, the Web domain was two days from expiring, at which point Horine could purchase it to set up shop. “Then I go from there,” he said.

Horine estimates 80 percent of the students at the state event were legitimate small-business ventures rather than school projects that wouldn’t last past a final grade. Many already had limited liability company status.

The four to six judges each round, and the packed auditorium for the finals, largely were Charleston entrepreneurs, Horine said. Horine “played that slide pretty hard” showing how Charleston could be a key market for him, coming away with a pocket full of business cards.

“That’s amazing as a young entrepreneur,” he said. “Connections are everything in the business world.”

LaPointe’s business isn’t as practical as Horine’s, but LaPointe said he hopes the business lessons gained will be.

“I was kind of hoping for the best,” he said of the competition, “and I got something out of it.”

LaPointe promoted OnPointe Energy. The would-be company offers health-food products to customers, highlighted by the Chance Power Bar.

LaPointe only came up with the idea for the project, but he did make several varieties of nutrition bars for judges. He’s made them for himself before, and thought about his soccer teammates at school during the project.

“We were really looking to target my high school as the target audience,” he said.

LaPointe doesn’t intend to enter the power bar market; instead, he’ll take lessons from the project like “how much money you actually need to start the business,” financial planning and an increased confidence in public presentation. “I found that I liked that,” he said.

Fort Mill entrepreneurship teacher Jennifer Molnar is in her first year teaching at Fort Mill High, coming from Rock Hill High School, where she’d worked with YEScarolina.

Molnar had a commitment keeping her from the state finals, but the call she got from LaPointe with results of the competition had her thinking about her own startup.

“If I could bottle the excitement in his voice, I’d have a million dollars,” she said.

Molnar said she was thrilled with the state results and Horine’s spot among the top 40 nationally to compete in October. She’s also excited about the possibilities for students at her school and others, when there’s a focus on enterprise.

“Teaching entrepreneurship is more than teaching concepts,” Molnar said. “It’s providing the opportunity to teach life skills, allowing students to make their business dreams a reality.”