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President Obama Welcomes Student Entrepreneurs to the White House

Last week, as part of National Entrepreneurship Month, President Obama welcomed six winners of nationwide student entrepreneurship competitions to the White House.

The President started National Entrepreneurship Month by issuing a proclamation, calling for America to “revisit our roots as a country of dreamers and doers” and to “celebrate and support the next generation of American entrepreneurs.”

Last week, the President and two of his senior advisers – his Science Advisor, Dr. John Holdren, and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith – met some of that talented next generation as they welcomed student winners from national entrepreneurship competitions to the White House.

The competitions were run by two national organizations that mentor students in entrepreneurship: the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) and Junior Achievement (JA).

The four students from NFTE represented the finalists of the organization’s annual competition for a $25,000 prize awarded in October 2015 by the Citi Foundation. These students were chosen from a field of over 20,000 talented students across the country. The two students from Junior Achievement include the CEOs of two of JA’s top annual awards – the JA Company of the Year, powered by The Hartford, and the Microsoft Social Innovation Award. This year, JA will reach 500,000 students with entrepreneurship programs across the United States.

 President Barack Obama greets winners of youth entrepreneurship competitions in the Oval Office, Nov. 25, 2015.
President Barack Obama greets winners of youth entrepreneurship competitions in the Oval Office, Nov. 25, 2015. The President greets from left to right: Joseph Fortuno, Jannatul Rowshan, Crystal Sanchez, Urbana Anam, Rachel Gorgas, and Kenneth Huertas.
(Photo Credit: White House/Pete Souza)

​NFTE students included:

  • First place winner Crystal Sanchez, from Lawndale, California, is the CEO of Guardian Locket, a product and app combination designed to provide a useful technology to help people who feel in danger of sexual assault. The locket has a tiny button that can send a false phone call to an owner’s cell phone or alert local authorities to the user’s location;
  • Kenneth Huertas from Downey, California, launched A Touch of Eco as an on-demand, environmentally-friendly car cleaning service;
  • Urbana Anam and Jannatul “Alifa” Rowshan from Queens, New York, started UrbanAlifa Hijabs, a business allowing Muslim women to customize their hijabs so that they can feel a sense of empowerment and personalized style.

Junior Achievement students included:

  • Rachel Gorgas from Encinitas, California, is the CEO of the JA Company of the Year. Rachel founded CCA Today with teammates from her high school. CCA Today developed a smart phone app that connected their high school campus, giving students information about news and events.
  • Joseph Fortuno from Hercules, California, won the JA Microsoft Social Innovation Award along with his fellow teammates. Their company, Herban Movement, published a hybrid cookbook and encyclopedia, with forty percent of the sales from the book going to The California Autism Foundation and Free the Children.

Shawn Osborne, the President of NFTE, and Jack Kosakowski, the President of Junior Achievement, were also present to honor the students. Both NFTE and Junior Achievement have long-standing commitments to student entrepreneurship, and both organizations made exciting announcements earlier this summer at the first-ever White House Demo Day to reach many more students.

White House Demo Day brought together more than 90 entrepreneurs to highlight diverse talent that exists around the country, and served as an opportunity for the government and private sector alike to announce concrete actions to foster inclusive entrepreneurship. As part of the Administration’s Startup America initiative, White House Demo Day joins a sustained effort to promote high-growth entrepreneurship – from democratizing access to capital through crowdfunding to accelerating lab-to-market opportunities through the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps training program for entrepreneurial scientists.

Entrepreneurship is not only key to America’s future prosperity, but it is also a critical component of economic development around the world. That is why last week, the President announced that the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit will come to “the birthplace of modern innovation” – Silicon Valley – serving as an opportunity for entrepreneurs, investors, educators, government officials and business leaders to advance inclusive entrepreneurship.

In the proclamation announcing National Entrepreneurship Month, the President noted that, “By supporting entrepreneurs, we can help ensure our daughters and sons are able to do whatever they set out to accomplish and achieve their highest aspirations.” As we approach the end of National Entrepreneurship Month, talented students like the ones at the White House today give us great reasons to be optimistic about the future.

Jennifer Erickson is the Assistant Director for Innovation and Economic Growth at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.