Students win $3,000 in Shark Tank-style pitch competition and advance to national finals

Los Angeles, June 1, 2024 — Global entrepreneurship education nonprofit Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) has named three local student businesses as the winners of its annual West (Southern California) Regional Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. The young entrepreneurs distinguished themselves through innovative business ideas. Southern California winners will join the Northern California winners at the national finals in New York on Oct. 10, along with a business to be selected and announced in late June as a wildcard competitor. They will compete for the National Champion title and cash prizes.

Competitors pitched their original business concepts to a panel of esteemed judges, including Vivek Bhuta, Senior Manager, EY-Parthenon; Sheila Emami, VP at St. Cloud Capital, LLC; Sadiya Gosla, VP, Branch Manager at Citibank; Gary Rabishaw, Managing Director, Head of Commercial & Consumer Technology at Intrepid Investment Bankers, LLC; and Brittany Trick, Small Business Sales Manager at U.S. Bank. They selected a first-place winner to receive $1,500, a second-place winner to receive $1,000, and a third-place winner to receive $500.

  • 1st Place: Lucio Hightower-Rojas from the Los Angeles Urban League with his business idea Scholar Brilliance, a mission-driven technology company that aims to revolutionize how students fund their education and pursue their academic passions.
  • 2nd Place: Solonia Allen from the Los Angeles Urban League with her business idea Almndmlk, which creates tasty vegan bundt cakes using organic ingredients and unique recipes.
  • 3rd Place: David Gutierrez from Florence Nightingale Middle School in Los Angeles with his business idea Anyone Can Game, which provides those with a hearing impairment with a more immersive, augmented, and life-like experience when they play video games.

“The Southern California Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge in the NFTE West Region showcased the exceptional talent and potential of our young participants,” said Tim Blaylock, NFTE West Executive Director. “Their innovative ideas, boundless enthusiasm, and unwavering determination to succeed have been undeniably inspirational. This event was made possible through the dedicated efforts of our local NFTE teachers, volunteer coaches, judges, and the NFTE West staff. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to everyone for their steadfast support, which significantly contributed to the resounding success of this challenge.”

The NFTE West (Southern California) Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge was presented by Ernst & Young LLP (EY US) and U.S. Bank with signature support from Shopify and associate support from the Citi Foundation, PayPal, and Santander.   

For media inquiries, please contact Angelika Seaman, 603-504-8554, or Denise Berkhalter, APR, 917-281-4362, at [email protected].


About NFTE:

Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) ignites the entrepreneurial mindset with unique learning experiences that empower students to own their futures. A global nonprofit founded in 1987, NFTE provides high-quality entrepreneurship education to middle school, high school and postsecondary students. NFTE brings the power of entrepreneurship to students, regardless of family income, community resources, special needs, gender identity, race, or ethnicity. NFTE has educated more than a million students, delivering our programs in school, out of school, in-person, online, or through hybrid models. Visit to learn more.