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‘You are the future’

KAPAA — Three Kapaa High School senior girls sat on the edge of their chairs with their hands anxiously gripping the seats. Nervous smiles spread across their faces as they waited for what the announcer was going to say next.

The teens made up one of five companies participating in Kapaa High’s New Business Competition, held “Shark Tank”-style at the Marriott’s Courtyard Kauai at Coconut Beach, where an audience full of parents and Kapaa High staff eagerly looked on.

Moments before the announcement, Shasta Behling-Camaro, one of the girls in the Gardens of Feedin’ company, said she was confident in her team and had learned a lot about entrepreneurship from Christine Farina’s economics class.

“I feel we did really good,” the 17-year-old said. “I’m excited that it’s done with because it was really nerve- racking. It was fun. The whole experience — being able to create our own business and being able to create our own shirts and logo.”

She and her business partners, Amber Weiss and Whitney White, had just stepped off the stage after pitching their vertical gardens idea to the six judges.

Farina had given each company an assignment in October, and Thursday was the final presentation, a mock-style panel much like the hit NBC show “Shark Tank.” Farina said she thought every business did great.

“They were nervous,” Farina said. “It’s difficult in front of so many people, especially when they are accomplished entrepreneurs. They were all good businesses.”

The Gardens of Feedin’ teens shared their vision of a vertical garden company growing locally grown, organic, non-GMO food, which would be aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but would cost quite a pretty penny, according to feedback from one of the sharks.

Priced at $120 per square foot, the girls would have to find a rare niche, the sharks argued.

In the end, though, the judges agreed they loved the idea.

Another company the panel liked was Vehicular Repair and Customization Co.

The four business partners presented their idea of how they could easily customize and fix any car on the island on Kauai, legally.

The sharks were impressed with their business plan, but said they should rethink their $35 hourly rates.

One of the more compelling presentations of the night, according to several sharks, came when Fisher’s Fun Time Emporium jumped on stage and showed the audience some “pretty scary facts about teens on Kauai,” dealing with pregnancy rates, crystal meth use and substance abuse counseling.

Their pitch had to do with giving teens an alternative to all the negative activities a kid can get into on Kauai, and instead suggested an indoor activities center for youth that would include activities like laser tag, food and juice bar and a teen night club for those between the ages of 14 and 21.

The sharks loved the idea, but didn’t understand the business plan and sent them back to the drawing board.

If the students could somehow figure out their money issues, the business would actually work, the panel said.

All the companies agreed that being onstage in the spotlight hadn’t been easy.

“That one guy. He keeps getting on everyone’s case,” Weiss said.

“That one guy” was Kurt Last, an entrepreneur and executive vice president at WorkingBuildings.

“I’m an entrepreneur,” Last said. “I know where the banana peels are and the landmines. I just asked them where their banana peels and their landmines were.”

One of his shark buddies defended him.

“Kurt is the sweetest, nicest guy ever,” said Marion Paul, another shark on the panel. “We needed a shark who was able to ask good tough business questions. I think we made a good panel.”

Paul is a non-profit entrepreneur who is coordinating Keiki to Career, a new program designed to help Kauai youth.

When the announcement finally came in, Behling-Camaro, Weiss and White jumped up and screamed in unison. Gardens of Feedin’ had just won for its vertical gardens innovation.

“I’m so impressed,” said Paul Behling, Shasta’s father, with tears swelling in his eyes and a smile forming on his face.

Amber’s father, Jeff Weiss, said he was proud of his daughter and called the idea “realistic” and “not far-fetched.”

Her older sister lives on Honolulu in an apartment, he said. “Where would her garden be? I guess on the balcony. She just came up with a great idea for her sister.”

After the announcement, the sharks had some advice and words of encouragement for the young entrepreneurs.

“A lot of thought was put into this,” Last said.

“The entrepreneurial spirit is alive on Kauai,” Paul told them. “You are the future.”

Behling-Camaro said the experience was great, although stressful. Even being in front of the camera was kind of fun, too.

“We were excited,” she said. “It felt like being a celebrity for like a little bit.”

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