Entrepreneur, record producer and music executive Damon Dash is set to judge and be honored with the first Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s YES National Business Plan Challenge.
Dash, who was at the opening ceremony on Thursday, expressed how happy he was to be a part of the event. “It feels good, and I love when we are doing stuff for us in an environment like this,” he said.
This is the second year nonprofit Young Entrepreneurz Solutions is hosting YES National Business Plan Challenge on the island of St. Croix. Challengers this year come from states such as California, New Jersey, Texas, and Miami, and teams from both St. Croix and St. Thomas will compete for a grand prize of $1,000 for each team member. Second-place winners will win $250 and $100 for the remaining participants.
“Last year five teams competed and this year they are bringing 10,” said Executive Director Ernest Ruffin Jr., an award-winning adjunct professor at Rutgers University teaching entrepreneurship. “The competition is getting stiffer, and we had to turn some teams down because of the capacity,” said Ruffin. “Next year is expected to be even bigger.”
As a winner of the competition, Dash said he is looking for “a business plan that people are passionate for what they are selling. I prefer people not just try to make money but money on things they would do for free.”
When asked about being honored for the first YES Lifetime Achievement Award, Dash said, “It feels good knowing that other people appreciate you. A lot of us culturally look for appreciation from other cultures, I like receiving appreciation from my culture”.
On Thursday, a welcome ceremony was held at the Palms at Pelican Cove. Friday, the executives received their YES Awards, and the students presented their business plans. Winners will be announced on Saturday.
Ruffin began the Young Entrepreneurz Solutions program after realizing the need for young entrepreneurs of color. “I said let me get a program to reach younger people and let them get excited about entrepreneurship,” said Ruffin. He then began in 2014 and visited St. Thomas in 2015, where he met with Tourism Commissioner Joseph B. Boschulte, who was then working for WICO. Ruffin said, “Our first YES Business Plan Challenge in the Virgin Island was in 2015 in St. Thomas, Commissioner Boschulte supported the program allowing us to host it at his WICO offices.”
Boschulte, who was at the event, said, “It’s great from a human standpoint just seeing all of these young faces. It is really rewarding to see these young faces and know that they are here to win the challenge.”
“From a professional standpoint of course, we love to see faces all around and to hear the different places they come from. It helps us hopefully to build the next generation of people who come to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Lastly, to have some national and international faces and experience the territory like Damon Dash, they take it back and they post their experiences of the U.S. Virgin Islands people are going to find out about it.”
“The icing on the cake is that we have a team from St. Croix and one from St. Thomas,” said Boschulte.
Executive Director of the V.I. Lottery Raymond Williams, who was also at the event, said, “We came up with a new slogan at the V.I. Lottery that says a ‘new wave of opportunity’ and our objective is in building that wave. Just like the ocean goes out and comes back in, new, fresh all the time, always forever changing, that is our objective.”
He continued, “This an example of how everybody wins. The monies that come into our program gives us the opportunity to sponsor arts, sports, music, you name it. Anything associated with nonprofit.”