Four graduates of The Center’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute (ELI) offered EKU Presidential Scholarships for innovative business idea

An innovative business idea that will give iPhone users a safe, convenient way to charge their phones at night has earned four graduates of The Center for Rural Development’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute (ELI) an exclusive college scholarship offer from Eastern Kentucky University.

Grace Sink, 16, a student at Oneida Baptist Institute in Clay County; Carly Paige Upchurch, 17, a student at Clinton County High School; Anna Grace Zehr, 16, a student at Whitley County High School; and Colton Morrow, 15,  a student at Wayne County High School, won this year’s ELI Business Concept Challenge Competition for their iPhone bedside charging station.

The Charging Charlie, a small, wireless docking station, was selected by a panel of judges as the top business concept from five business plans presented at the competition.

Each member of the ELI CC Inc. winning team will receive a college scholarship offer from Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond valued at $13,600 over a four-year period.

“ELI gave me the fundamental, basic knowledge on how to be a successful entrepreneur,” said Sink, a sophomore at Oneida Baptist Institute. “Working with a team on an idea showed the importance everyone has in a company.”

“This was a great learning experience of how a business would work and how a simple idea can turn into a large company,” added Morrow. “The ELI program helped me to learn how to be a team player and work with others to accomplish a goal.”

Upchurch said the team came up with the idea for the Charging Charlie as a safe alternative for iPhone users to charge their phone at night. Faulty wires and outlets have been linked to house fires.

Customers simply plug in the Charlie cord to their iPhone and slide it into the docking station. With interchangeable hooks and a suction cup, the Charging Charlie can stick or hang from any bed or wall.

“ELI opened my eyes to what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur,” said Zehr, a sophomore at Whitley County High School. “It is more than just designing a product and selling it. You have to do extensive research.”

Twenty-two high school students from 17 Kentucky counties graduated from this year’s ELI program and developed business plans for five unique product ideas or services. The overall Business Concept Challenge Competition winning team was announced on Friday, June 17, during the graduation program.

“This year’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute was an exceptional testament to the talent of young people that reside in Southern and Eastern Kentucky,” said Delaney Stephens, youth programs coordinator and community liaison for The Center. “This region needs bold, innovative ideas and it was encouraging to see just that from these high school participants.”

ELI, a one-week youth leadership program, was presented by The Center in partnership with Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, Eastern Kentucky University, University of the Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment (Community and Leadership Development Department), and the Kentucky Innovation Network.

Ann DeSpain and Melony Denham, co-developers and co-teachers of E-Discovery Challenges You! program, provided the curriculum for ELI students.

The program is open to high school students within The Center’s 45-county primary service area who have an interest in building their leadership, business, and entrepreneurial skills in Southern and Eastern Kentucky.

ELI winning team CC Inc. Team—Charging Charlie

ELI winning team CC Inc. Team—Charging Charlie

ELI Business Concept Challenge Competition Teams

Overall winning team

CC Inc. Team—Charging Charlie (small wireless iPhone docking station)
Grace Sink, 16, student at Oneida Baptist Institute, Clay County
Colton Morrow, 15, student at Wayne County High School
Carly Paige Upchurch, 17, student at Clinton County High School
Anna Grace Zehr, 16, student at Whitley County High School

Smokin’ Tees Team—Tee-rific Belt Buckle (holds three golf tees, divot tool, and ball marker)
Dalton Green, 15, student at Green County High School
Hannah Carroll, 16, student at Paul G. Blazer High School, Boyd County
Max Elam, 16, student at Rowan County Senior High School
Sydney McWhorter, 15, student at South Laurel High School

KY Crew Team—Kentucky Keen (tourism-related business promoting specific attractions and areas in rural Kentucky communities)
John Sizemore, 17, student at Clay County High School
Aaron Warner, 16, student at Lee County High School
Jaimie Tomaw, 17, student at South Laurel High School
Autumn Keeton, 16, student at Morgan County High School
McKenna Moore, 15, student at Bath County High School

The Go-Getters Team—Grab ‘N’Go (handheld, household product that provides a practical, painless way to carry heavy objects)
Rinda Oliver, 15, student at Elliott County High School
Tevin Leigh, 16, student at Boyle County High School
Emily  “Emmy” Greene, 15, student at Elliott County High School
Jayden Wesley, 16, student at Pike County Central High School
Bailey Willis, 15, student at Cumberland County High School

The “BEAD”LES Team—Charms for Contributions (ribbon-shaped charm with a portion of the proceeds to be donated to the American Cancer Society)
Wesley Mills, 15, student at Southwestern High School
Abby McCowan, 17, student at South Laurel High School
Chelsey Caldwell, 16, student at Harlan County High School
Grayson Blankenship, 16, student at Russell County High School

Visit our Flickr gallery for a look back at the 2016 ELI program.