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26 Mar

Lake Havasu High School student takes top spot at startup competition

  • By BRANDON MESSICK Today’s News-Herald

A Lake Havasu High School Student took first place at an entrepreneurship competition last month, and his victory also could be a victory for the Lake Havasu City Partnership for Economic Development.

The PED last year joined with Arizona State University’s Havasu campus to offer Entrepreneur Outreach Network class, which educates and encourages the city’s next generation of entrepreneurs. Francis Mendoza, 17, was among EON’s first students; and in February took his skills to Phoenix for CO+HOOTS’ Youth Startup Weekend.

“I knew this wasn’t the ivory tower of my books and lectures anymore,” Mendoza said. “It was the real thing.”

Mendoza’s EON coursework encouraged him to create and defend his own entrepreneurial ideas, but he describes last month’s CO+HOOTS event as a “Shark Tank” for teens. CO+HOOTS is an entrepreneurial hub and co-working space in Phoenix, where teams of participants were given three days to design, plan and present ideas to a panel of business founders and investors.

“I never heard of CO+HOOTS until one of my EON teachers, (Tonya) Krueger, emailed me about it. She asked me if I was interested. By the time I found out what it was, I had one thing in mind: ‘This thing is taking off without me, and I have to be a part of it.”

The PED sponsored Mendoza’s entry into the competition and his trip to Phoenix for the event. “I was only 17, but they believed in me,” Mendoza said. “I’ll never forget it and I can’t thank them enough for that.”

Mendoza had little idea of what to expect from the competition when he arrived, but now remembers that he had his work cut out for him.

“It was brutal,” Mendoza said. “Absolutely brutal. I was literally trying to start a company in three days. Most startups drop like flies in the real world. No way was I going to let that happen. I went all-in.”

From his team of four, Mendoza started as chief financial officer, but his acumen for business soon led to his promotion to CEO of his team’s startup company, “PreciousTech.”

“I wouldn’t have survived without (EON),” Mendoza said. “Everything I learned suddenly ‘clicked’ the moment I took the plunge into work. Product design, market research, finance – the entire sum of what I learned since day one all came together as one, solid picture of what it means to truly run a startup.”

As his development team wrote code, Mendoza planned his company’s finances – how best to generate enough revenue for their company to stay afloat. Ultimately, the team pitched its product: a wearable monitor that would prevent parents from leaving children or pets inside of too-hot vehicles.

“My team was the second-to-last group to go on,” Mendoza said. “The stoic gaze of the investors gave everybody chills…there was so much at stake. I knew, somehow, we could do this.”

Mendoza’s team gave its six-minute pitch and left, waiting in a back room for what felt like an eternity. When the judges finished deliberating, his company was announced the competition’s winner.

“All the late nights and early mornings paid off,” Mendoza said. “It was surreal…it was the best feeling in the world.”

For the PED, Mendoza’s victory could be a sign of things to come in Havasu. As Havasu’s older entrepreneurs retire, the PED has noticed a lack of young entrepreneurs to take their place – a trend known as “demographic starvation.”

Combating demographic starvation has for years been one of the top priorities of Havasu’s economic and community development plan, “Havasu Vision 20/20,” and was one of the primary reasons for the PED’s partnership with ASU-Havasu.

“The goal of Havasu Vision 20/20 is to reverse the trend of demographic starvation,” said the PED’s Tonya Krueger. “One way to achieve this goal is to invest within Lake Havasu and strengthen our entrepreneurial talent. Francis is an excellent example of the promising youth we have in our great town.”

One of Mendoza’s teammates, and “PreciousTech’s” conceptual founder Jennifer James, contacted Mendoza earlier this month to inform him that she didn’t have the time to continue pursuing “PreciousTech.” Mendoza said he will assume a leadership role in the startup company.