You’re never too young to be an entrepreneur – and our friends over at LAUNCH are well aware of that. LAUNCH works with Chattanooga-area high schoolers who want to turn their creative business concepts into a reality.

“Students need healthy ways to engage in the learning process,” said Hal Bowling, co-founder of LAUNCH. “I think entrepreneurship is a great way to do that.”

And he’s not talking lemonade stands or car washes.

Over the course of the fall, LAUNCH guided students at the Howard School and Tyner Academy as they created and developed legitimate business plans. On Dec. 2, teams of students presented their concepts, competing for prizes that could help them launch their startups.

Colby McCurty and Deosha King, both juniors, won the grand $10,000 prize package for their Grab N Go business: vending machines that provide school supplies in educational settings. Just weeks earlier, the team presented their startup plan at CO.LAB’s Will This Float? pitch night in November. The first Grab N Go machine soon will grace the halls of Tyner Academy.

The prize package includes $2,500 in cash, as well as advisory services from a range of local groups and businesses: Miller & Martin (legal); Henderson, Hutcherson & McCollough (accounting);   D+J (branding); LMBC (consulting); and LAUNCH (business coaching).

Originally, only one prize was designated. But Bowling said the judges – all partners in the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund –  hadn’t anticipated such high-caliber startup concepts. At the end of the evening, the judges decided to support two additional businesses.

Student Deshel Hambrick received $1,000 to start her 4eva Young Thrift Store business at Howard. She’ll receive $1,000 for each additional school location, with a $5,000 limit. And Winston Clay, Antonio Woodall and Deshun Wilson’s team will receive sponsorship to take their Comfort Box idea through CO.LAB’s 48Hour Launch.

While the competition is fun, Bowling said LAUNCH has some deeper objectives.

“There’s a lot of talk about at-risk kids. It’s so vital for them to have any kind of hope about the future,” he said. “We’re giving them a taste of what it’s like to look at the world, to see problems and to identify solutions. Through entrepreneurship, they’re finding hope.”

(photo courtesy of LAUNCH)