At only 13 years old, Seanna Mullins has been through a lot — and has learned that it’s possible to turn tragedy into a triumph.
Mullins a seventh-grade student at Northern Middle School, put her ideas up against some of the nation’s best and brightest this past weekend in Rochester, NY at the 10th-annual Saunders Scholars National Conference and Competition.
There, Mullins represented the Somerset chapter of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, from which she advanced recently with a business idea that made an impact with a local investor panel.
“I started crying at first, tears of joy,” said Mullins of her local accomplishment. “I never thought I’d get this far in my life, especially at 13.”
As part of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA) program, teenaged individuals with potential are sought out and recruited to be part of the program, then put through a rigorous course over a span of multiple weeks that trains them to develop their ideas, put together all the relevant data, and practice speaking in front of investors.
The kids stand in front of the panel and present their ideas, asking for up to a certain amount of start-up money. They illustrate how much they need, what it goes toward, and try to convince the participating investors why they should take a risk on this particular project.
This year’s local master panel was on April 15. Delores Dalton, a program manager for YEA along with Chris Lackey, said that 16 students presented 14 business ideas between them. It was Mullins’, however, that won over the panel.
Mullins’ father passed away in September as a result of a traffic accident. Mullins felt alone at that time.
“I didn’t have a gift to help me,” she said.
So Mullins created Healing Hearts, a business producing special dolls for young people who have may have gone through a similar hardship as Mullins.
The line of homemade plush dolls can be personalized and customized, and each doll would have a background story about a time he or she faced challenges.
“The doll has gone through a difficult time, like they lost a loved one or had a disease, have broken an arm or a leg,” said Mullins. “It can teach someone how they’ve gone through that and gotten through that.”
Said Dalton, “(Mullins) could customize them or use fabric from a loved one’s (item) to create the dolls. She came in first place and she articulated well too, she presented well.”
Currently, the Somerset YEA is the only such program in Kentucky — Dalton said that similar programs in Danville and Louisville, parts of the YEA franchise, no longer exist.
Mullins said the rigorous course which lasted from October to April was “stressful” but beneficial.
“We had to do a business plan, we had to find out what taxes do,” she said. “Once it’s all over, you’re very happy because you have your own business and you’re very successful.”
Mullins said she’s learned lots of new business vocabulary terms, like “markets,” and benefited greatly from her YEA mentor, Emily Conley, of the Barnes & Noble College store at Somerset Community College.
“She was fantastic,” said Mullins of Conley. “She was fun, and very understanding of things. She helped so much. I appreciated her more than anything.”
This past weekend, Mullins went to the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York for the national level of the competition, where each participating state and city — including China as well as those in the U.S. — send their winning representatives. Dalton said there were “probably 100 young people from 6th to 12th grade level” were there to compete against.
Mullins didn’t place there, but got a lot out of the experience nonetheless — Dalton noted that it was her first time even flying.
“It was fun,” she said. “I got to meet new people. I got nervous when I went on stage, but I got into it during (the presentation) and my passion came out.”
Mullins did get $1,000 from the local investor panel and a four-year scholarship to Campbellsville University, however. And she definitely plans on keeping up with Healing Hearts past the YEA experience and making a real go of it as a business.
Said Mullins of the pitching process, “I can’t wait to do it again.”