Food Is Focus For Two Young Valley Entrepreneurs

By Tim Sheehan The Fresno Bee.

Tasty food could prove a winning recipe for success for two young entrepreneurs from Fresno high schools when they pitch their business ideas in a national competition next month in the Bay Area.

Elise Christophersen, a Norwegian exchange student who last year was a senior at McLane High School, and Kelsey Hershey, a Kingsburg resident who is a senior at Roosevelt High, are both bound for the National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge.

The competition, to be held Oct. 9 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, is organized by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. At stake is $35,000 in business start-up funding and other prizes.

Christophersen and Hershey are among 40 students or teams who will compete in a "Shark Tank"-style competition, pitching their enterprises to judges in hopes of landing the top prize of $25,000 in venture capital and business services.

Christophersen was the first place winner, and Hershey the runner up, in the NFTE Central California regional business plan competition in May in Fresno.

Christophersen's business idea, Norway Waffles, sprang from humble roots -- she brought a Norwegian waffle iron, which bakes heart-shaped waffles, to the U.S. as a gift for her Fresno host family.

The business plan centers not on the waffle iron, but on creating a pre-made dry mix for waffles that are fluffy with a soft center.

Christophersen is back home in Oslo, Norway, for college, but according to information from NFTE, she wanted to develop an easy-to-make and healthy product for the American market as an alternative to typical breakfast fare like doughnuts, pancakes or muffins.

"These products are known for being unhealthy and in the long run, eating sugar- and fat-laden foods can have consequences like being overweight and getting diabetes," Christophersen said.

She plans to return to California for the national competition.

Hershey's business idea is Poppy's Jam, using exclusively local produce to make organic jam that is free from any genetically modified ingredients. She hatched her plan after learned about the small-business competition through Roosevelt's business academy program.

"I wanted to do something different than anybody else, not the usual cupcake/brownie thing," Hershey said Tuesday. "Since I'm from Kingsburg, I figured that fruit jam would be great. I've been canning with my mom for a couple of years."

The focus of her business plan is "to do farm-to-table as close as possible," she said. Hershey now uses fruit from her family's farm -- "strawberry is kind of my go-to," she said -- to make gifts of jam for family and friends.

But that could change dramatically if she won an infusion of start-up cash in the competition to get the business off the ground.

Hershey said she's gotten plenty of comments about how she and Christophersen should get their waffles and jam together.

"The very first time we presented, I freaked out because she had canning jars in her display," Hershey said of Christophersen's project. "But when I found out she was doing waffles, I thought, 'Wow, this would be perfect together.' "

"I gave her a jar of jam, and we giggled and laughed about how the two might actually go somewhere together."

The regional event, which recognized representatives from 16 schools in Fresno, Orange Cove, Reedley, Wasco, Lompoc, Susanville, Chester and Greenville, was sponsored by NFTE Central California and Fresno State's Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Christophersen's and Hershey's plans are among six product ideas representing California at the national competition.

Other competitors hail from Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

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