He Means BusinessSep 01, 2021 ● By Glenda Vosburgh
A Frisco teen has been named America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneur after winning first place in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) 12th Annual Saunders Scholars National Competition. The recognition came with a $30,000 scholarship to the Rochester Institute of Technology and a $5,000 cash award.
Rudransh “Rudy” Arora, a 16-year-old junior at Centennial High School, competed virtually against 36 student semifinalists representing 20 states and 35 schools from across the country. He is a member of the Frisco chapter of YEA!, a national organization.
Founded in 2004 at the University of Rochester in New York, YEA! spun off from the university level in 2008 and was offered to local chambers of commerce to help bridge the gap between areas’ education and business communities. YEA! Frisco was founded in 2011 and is a joint venture of the Frisco Chamber of Commerce, Frisco Economic Development Corporation and the Frisco Independent School District. The Frisco Chamber was the first chamber in Texas to offer the program.
Students age 11 through 18 who are accepted into the program are taken through the process of starting and running a business or social movement over the course of year while working with local leaders, community members and educators.
The idea for Rudy’s company, Workbee, grew out of a personal experience. “About five years ago, our neighborhood hired a contractor to put up Christmas and holiday lights,” he says. The contractor “put up about half the lights, left with the neighborhood’s money and never came back.” That situation revealed a need in the marketplace that the teen says he quickly moved to fill.
Workbee aims to provide clients with a better way. Using the company’s app, which currently is available through Apple’s App Store, or the website workbeeholidays.com, homeowners can purchase holiday decorations, find community-reviewed and trusted Workbee contractors to complete the installation, schedule the work and pay for it.
Rudy credits his friend Sarthak Dhawan, a junior at Frisco’s Liberty High School, for helping with the technology side of the company, including partnering with him to create the Workbee app and website.
Frisco youths who are involved in the YEA! program enter as students and leave as CEOs, says Peter Burns, the local program’s director. “We teach them to be CEOs,” he says. “In fact, we don’t use the word student; we call them CEO. We treat them as if they are in an MBA program, and I believe this is more intense than an MBA program.”
YEA! Frisco admits a minimum of 24 students every year. The chapter holds the distinction of being the only one with back-to-back winners of the America’s Next Top Entrepreneur award. Gurnoor Narula, a former Liberty High School student who graduated from the program last year as a senior, received the honor in 2020.
YEA! applicants are interviewed prior to being accepted into the program. In most cases, participants have an interest in entrepreneurship, often because someone involved in their life is or has been an entrepreneur. They typically also have an idea for some type of business that they would like to flesh out.
The program meets weekly for nearly the entire school year. Student CEOs are guided through a detailed program that teaches them fundamental aspects of business. The highly competitive program boasts a waiting list of students who are interested in joining.
Instruction is done in three stages, the first being the idea phase. “We throw out ideas for businesses and discuss them,” Mr. Burns explains. “We come up with 12 to 15 businesses every year.” The building-of-the-business stage includes pairing students with volunteer coaches from throughout the business community. They meet weekly while YEA! staff members manage from behind the scenes. This phase also includes creating a business plan and pitching their business idea to investors to raise capital.
Students are trained in creating a pitch (including a PowerPoint presentation) to convince an investor panel to invest in their company. The panel, which is recruited from Frisco-area businesses, educational and government entities, has a pool of money to allocate. After the pitch session, the panel decides how much money to allot to each business. The funds are provided to reimburse students for expenses incurred while building out their businesses.
Workbee, Rudy’s business, received $1,600. One judge was so impressed with it that he personally added an additional $400 to the sum for a total of $2,000.
The third stage of the YEA! program is going to market. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Stonebriar Centre provided space for students to open their businesses and see how the public responded to it. (It is not known when that practice may start again.)
“Throughout the program, we observe the students to see how they will react to things we ask them to do,” Mr. Burns says. “Rudy was very coachable. When I challenged him, he always stepped up.” Participants are taught to be professional, he says. “We also let their parents know that this program is not for them, it is for the students. Helping their child does not do them any favors.”
Bradley Elledge, a recently retired manufacturing executive, has volunteered with YEA! for the past two years. He spent a lot time with Rudy helping him to develop a business plan and start his business.
“I was shocked to learn he was (at the time) a sophomore,” Mr. Elledge says. “He was well down the road to creating his business. His PowerPoint presentation was first rate and his presentation skills and refinement in his business plan were excellent. He’s an eager, humble learner who is always asking for feedback and looking for ways to improve. Most teens don’t want to hear any advice from adults, but he seeks it out.”
Mr. Elledge also praised the teen for his initiative, work ethic and self-direction. “Many of the students in YEA!, though motivated, have to be coaxed and prodded into completing the elements of their business plan.” However, Rudy “completed his milestones ahead of time, and with the most polished presentation. In the national competition, he wore a suit and tie while other students wore something more casual. He was completely professional.”
Through the program, Rudy says, “I’ve learned a lot of valuable skills including leadership, confidence, how to run a business – skills that I will be able to use for the rest of my life.” He also credits his father, Himanshu Arora, for having “spent hours helping me refine everything. He was a big factor in winning” the national award.
Prior to receiving the YEA! award, Rudy competed nationally in a Business Professionals of America entrepreneurship competition, where he placed second. Not satisfied with that win, he hired an executive speech coach to help him improve his presentation. “I’ve always had an interest in public speaking,” he says. “I also like to interact with people, and being in business allows me to meet and talk with people from a variety of backgrounds.”
In addition to attending school and serving as an intern for a private equity venture capital firm, going forward the teen says he wants to continue to grow his company. He also has a keen interest in government and politics and plans to network with individuals in government, learning all he can while keeping an eye toward possibly running for public office one day.
Rudy’s national award and accomplishments through the YEA! Frisco chapter are scheduled to be recognized at a September Frisco City Council meeting. Mayor Jeff Cheney will designate it Rudy Arora Day in the city.
“When I started working on the business, I had no idea that we would progress this far,” the teen says. “I’m extremely honored to receive a proclamation at the City Council meeting … and I’m really happy I’ve had so much support from mentors, my parents and everyone at Frisco to help me get this far.”
Glenda Vosburgh is a freelance writer, animal lover and American history devotee who also is writing her first historical thriller.