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Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation high school competition set for Feb. 16

The innovateUNG High School Pitch Challenge will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16. Please preregister at to watch the event live.

More than a year ago, the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation devised a competition to help Forsyth County high school students flex their entrepreneurial muscles while being coached by UNG students.

Though the format has changed, the mission remains the same for the innovateUNG High School Pitch Challenge. This year's event will be held virtually at 6 p.m. Feb. 16 and those who would like to watch the free event should preregister. The teams and judges will each be in their own separate locations and video-conference in for the event.

"We are excited to host this pitch challenge for the second year," Dr. Mary Gowan, dean of UNG's Mike Cottrell College of Business (MCCB), said. "In the MCCB, engagement with the community is very important. This event provides an opportunity for us to engage with the community while developing future entrepreneurs."

A $1.45 million Workforce Opportunities for Rural Communities (WORC) grant from the U.S. Department of Labor supports this event and opens the door for UNG to expand its entrepreneurial efforts into the Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer and Lumpkin county school systems and Gainesville City School System. Dr. Ruben Boling, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the MCCB, is grateful for the opportunity.

"We want to enhance the entrepreneurial spirit and capability within our region," Boling said. "We're starting at the high school level."

Each of Forsyth County's seven public high schools will have a team in the 2021 competition. This year's event includes mentorship for the students from industry professionals, several of whom are UNG alumni who benefited from the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation while at UNG.

Dr. Valery Lowe, director of Forsyth County Schools College and Career Education, said students and teachers started asking about this year's event months ago. She appreciates the passion at the high school level and from UNG.

"We hope it becomes a part of what we do and something our students look forward to every year," Lowe said. "We appreciate UNG bringing it to the high school level. I think it's definitely going to take off."

Bobbi Larson, director of economic development and community engagement at UNG, said it is exciting to know other school systems will be able to take part in the competition in future years thanks to the WORC grant.

"We saw the chance to enhance the program and expand it to other communities in our service area," Larson said. "Increasing youth entrepreneurship education is one way we can grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region."

April Sledge, WORC grant program coordinator, said the grant also helps UNG convert some of its entrepreneurship curriculum to K-12 education materials that will help students develop an entrepreneurial mindset and the professional skills desired by employers.

"The competition is the first step in the grant," Sledge said. "We're really excited to get started."

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