Q&A with Danny Gray, business teacher of National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge winners Toheeb & Jesus

October 16, 2013  |  32 comments

Toheeb Okenla and Jesus Fernandez were recently named winners of NFTE’s annual National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge (NYEC) for their business T&J Soccer, a retail business that sells soccer socks to protect player’s shins during game. Fernandez, a 17-year-old student at Thornwood High School and Okenla, also 17 and now studying at University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, took home the $25,000 grand prize, prevailing over the top 34 businesses from around the country. Jesus and Toheeb were able to hone their business plan and prepare for the competition through the entrepreneurship education programs provided in the NFTE curriculum. We contacted Toheeb and Jesus’ NFTE teacher Danny Gray, and asked him to reflect on their win.

Danny Gray,
NFTE Chicago Teacher

What do you think about teaching NFTE?

This year I had the experience of a lifetime as a teacher. NFTE is one of the most exciting classes that a business teacher can teach, and this year with the opportunity to participate in the National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge elevated my excitement to another level.

What was it like to work with Toheeb and Jesus?

Working with Toheeb and Jesus was a learning experience that I deeply enjoyed. We were able to work through some challenging moments which helped them take their presentation to another level. Jesus and Toheeb are serious competitors, and after some challenging activities that took place during the first round of the national competition, we were able to regroup and tweak some things that we were not happy about. I have never worked with students that were more dedicated to being the best they could be.

What was it like to watch Toheeb and Jesus’ business plan develop?

When we presented in the class, Toheeb and Jesus were not my first choice. I had several students in my class with great business ideas and I was only willing to advance the students that were giving 100%. I remember pulling them both to the side to let them know that I didn’t think they were giving 100% and I suggested they commit more to the class. When I saw their first presentation after they appeared to only be giving 75%, I said, “Wow!”

What do you think of the national competition?

The national competition was one of the best experiences I have had so far as a teacher. I almost cried when my guys were announced the winners. I expected drama, but what I witnessed was like a Broadway play. It was like winning a Tony Award. My students said that they wanted to thank their teacher for all the support, and even though they did all the work, it felt good to know that with all the stardom, they did not forget me. 

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