This spring, some rural teens were either winners or runners-up in the One Montana Teenpreneur Roundup.

“The Teenpreneur Roundup is an annual online competition to celebrate and reward high school students who exhibit entrepreneurial spirit and business savvy,” said Kelly Beevers with One Montana. “It is designed to help participants create businesses that address challenges they see in their schools and communities.”

Beevers said One Montana works through the schools with the teachers, school clubs, and other organizations to find students to submit business ideas or an existing business to the contest.

According to Beevers, there were 43 submissions, representing 67 students, from a total of eight high schools in rural Montana.

The high schools were: Baker, Helena, Sheridan, Twin Bridges, Rapelje, Manhattan, Billings Skyview and Laurel.

The five judges work through an online format. They range from farmers and ranchers to business folks.

Students send in a video of their business, as well as a business plan.

“The winning business ideas in the New Business Category was a tie between Karibu Textiles, submitted by Kolter Stevenson from Manhattan, and Big Sky Fundraising, submitted by Kathryn Bower from Billings,” Beevers said.

Runner-up was T.S.P., submitted by Desaray Tipton from Sheridan High School.

“In the Existing Business Category, Rapelje Garbage Service, submitted by Carlee Blodgett and Abby Schladweiler in Rapelje, were the winners,” she said.

The runner up was Doodle Garden Designs submitted by Brooke Mehlhoff in Twin Bridges.

In Rapelje, those in town had to carry their own garbage to the dump. Rapelje Garbage Service and two teenagers have changed that.

“Rapelje is a town of about 100 people, farmers and ranchers, elderly people and busy families,” Blodgett said. “On Sunday, we go around to our customers and pick up garbage. Rapelje is so windy and garbage is stuck in fences, so by emptying garbage for our customers, we are keeping Rapelje clean.”

Beevers said they were so excited about the project that it was a first-place winner.

Also winning was Karibu Textiles.

“Montana is home to vast natural resources, and most fabrics today are polyester or cotton,” Stevenson said. “Finland has technology that makes textiles from a byproduct of paper and uses 99 percent less water.”

T.S.P., a runner-up from Sheridan High School, developed a product to help give pigs access to free-flowing water.

“Small businesses like 4-H or FFA kids that raise hogs do not have barns with heat, and the water freezes in the winter, so the pigs cannot get healthy water,” Tipton explained.

At her rural home, Tipton uses a blowtorch to unfreeze the water. Now, she helped create a water nipple called T.S.P., which provides free-flowing water for her pigs to have water all the time.

Brooke Mehlhoff makes stickers for her Doodle Garden Designs business, and many people are sticking her whimsical stickers on their water bottles, backpacks or walls.

Kathryn Bower of Billings said she was trying to raise funds for her school with coupon books and people kept shutting their doors in her face. Her business is called Big Sky Fundraising.

“I think if we team up with businesses to raise funds, it will help them and us,” Bower said.

Gov. Bullock commended the six winners for their achievements and for participating in the program. He spoke of the importance of our young leaders and said these entrepreneurs are the future of Montana and will impact our greater community.

A team of business specialists volunteered to evaluate student submissions.

Bullock hosts an award luncheon at the Capitol where prizes are distributed.

Since 2017, the Teenpreneur Roundup has distributed $5,000 in prize money and provided accelerated entrepreneurship training to teens across Montana.

In 2019, 87 students from 13 schools submitted 44 businesses.

“This is something we enjoy doing in these trying and difficult times,” Beevers added.

The person behind the program was Jim Masker, who joined that staff of One Montana in 2016.

“With Jim’s leadership and building on our prior Rural-Urban Student and Entrepreneur Exchange, One Montana pioneered several new programs including the Teenpreneur Roundup, Start-Up Academy, and Innovation Challenge,” said Sarah Tilt, One Montana executive director.  

In 2018, Masker and One Montana partnered with the nationally recognized Youth Entrepreneurs Program to establish Youth Entrepreneurs Montana (YE-Montana). Youth Entrepreneurs (YE) provides educators across the country with hands-on training, curriculum and staff support to help empower their students and place them on a path for success.

Jim’s 2018 pilot project with YE was so successful that they asked him to join their staff and manage YE-Montana.  “While we will certainly miss having Jim leading One Montana’s youth entrepreneur programs. This is an exciting opportunity for Jim, for Montana, and for our schools,” Tilt said.