DALLAS – At the Venture-Entrepreneurial Expedition on Friday, Torrey Cohen tried to present a unique way to increase attendance at his school from 93 percent to 97 percent.

Then the 13-year-old from the Young Men’s Leadership Academy received a “gift” that he certainly didn’t see coming. And it came from Dallas Mavericks proprietor Mark Cuban.

“I’ll make you an offer. If you get the attendance up to 96 percent,” Cuban told Cohen, “I’ll come back to your school and hang out with you guys for two hours and take the whole school (of 950 students) to a Mavs game.”

That brought a loud roar from the crowd assembled at Balch Spring Middle School, since it was a kind gesture that neither Cohen or anyone else expected.

Cuban, Mavs guard Seth Curry, education technology innovator EVERFI, Inc., the Seth Curry Foundation and presenting sponsor 5miles visited students at Young Women’s STEAM Academy for their first Business Pitch Competition in celebration of students participating in the Venture-Entrepreneurial Expedition. The business pitches were performed in a format similar to the popular TV show Shark Tank, where Cuban is one of the co-hosts.

The Venture-Entrepreneurial Expedition program is a new educational initiative designed to teach students how to think entrepreneurially about business and life.

Three awards were handed out on Friday, and Cohen’s group – Fill In The Cracks – won for the Best Overall Business Pitch For Dallas. Cohen, 13, admitted that it wasn’t easy standing on stage and trying to deliver a message that he hopes would be convincing to others.

“First off, you are presenting to a millionaire and a billionaire, and so I was very nervous,” Cohen said. “My mom told me to talk to them as if it was just a conversation with anyone – I just did that.”

“I got to shake hands with Mr. Cuban and Mr. Curry more than once, and talk to them. It was unbelievable. We worked very hard for this and we got a reward for it.”

Josiah Benson also won an award for having the most creative business pitch, and said his target audience “will be philanthropists like you, Mark Cuban.” Benson wants to donate toys and books to the less fortunate, and got a surprise when 5miles general manager Rick Cantu offered to step in and push his business plan twofold.

“Actually we just got to 14 million (downloads) across the United States, and my offer is this,” Cantu told Benson. “What we want to do, if you want to accelerate your donations, my team can work with you to promote your story.”

“We can stuff your home with books and toys so that you can pay it forward like you want to do.”

With a sheepish smile, Benson said: “I would love to take you up on that offer. And you say it’s been a pleasure meeting me — it’s been a pleasure meeting all of you.”

“To me, when I was smaller I never thought I would be able to do something this big, this huge. This is one of the biggest most gigantic milestones in my lifetime, because where I come from not a lot of children like me get to do this, so thank you all.”

The entrepreneurial program was initiated back in August with local Dallas middle schools learning from the digital course. Friday was the tell-tale time to see the fruits of the students’ labor.

“I didn’t get to learn about a lot of these business practices and how to develop an entrepreneurial mind until I got to college,” Curry said. “So for them to be able to learn this at this age is a great thing and I’m glad I was able to be a part of it.”

“It’s a great program, a great thing to be a part of, and it’s great to follow up now and see how much they’ve learned and how far they’ve come.”

Michelle Guerra-Martinez showed how much she’s learned and how far she’s come. The 13-year old from the Young Women’s STEAM Academy won the award for the most impactful business pitch, and was appreciative that it was so well received by the accompanying judges.

“Just to know that there was someone so important sitting there and listening to me and to recognize my ideas, and to win this award, knowing that someone actually acknowledged my idea, it feels great,” Guerra-Martinez said. “This is my first award ever.”

Delivering one of the winning entrepreneurial presentations, however, didn’t come without some trepidation.

“It was very, very nerve-wracking and I was shaking,” Guerra-Martinez said. “But I did my little prayer and I got up there.”

“The crowd was hyping me up – my classmates, my friends – and that just made me feel special. And I just felt 100 percent better.”

Shelley Baxter, the STEAM coordinator at Young Women’s STEAM Academy, said she didn’t know if even today she would have the courage to stand on stage and do a sales pitch in front of Cuban, Curry and Cantu.

“The students’ ideas and thoughts were excellent, and the fact that two of the participants actually got offers to take their idea even farther, I can’t even find the right words to express how excited I am for them,” Baxter said. “I didn’t know that were going to get an offer, and when the first offer came I’m like, ‘Wow.’ ”

“It took the breath out of me, and then when the second offer came. (Cuban is) willing to take all those kids to the Mavericks game. It just gives them that one last push to get the job done.”

Cuban told the students that he sold garbage bags as a kid, and wanted to be the best garbage bag salesman out there. He also doesn’t want them to have a fear of failure.

“I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart since as long as I can remember, so I know all the fears and all the excitement that goes into being a kid starting a business,” Cuban said. “So when I kind of pushed Seth to include me on this, it gives me a chance to encourage them in a way that hopefully will help them go out there and be the future of this country and start the businesses that make a difference.”

“This is the future of our country, and obviously Seth and I are big believers in the American dream. And trying to encourage kids and give them a little bit of experience is always a good thing.”

Curry was excited just to see the passion the students brought to their business presentations.

“As you grow, I encourage all of you to find what you love to do,” Curry said, “and find the difference you want to make in this world and put all your efforts into it and work hard no matter how many times you fail or get cut from your team or if your business plan isn’t right the first time.”

“Just continue to work at it and as long as you have that effort and that passion, that hard work will pay off for you in the long run.”

In all, there were six groups of students who gave business pitches to the judges. Cuban’s advice was for them to just be themselves.

“What I always tell people, if you look around you, somebody came up with the idea for everything that we see, and there’s nothing to prevent you from being the next person that comes up with the next great idea,” Cuban said. “The only person that can stop you is you.”

“I just try to encourage them and I also try to tell people it doesn’t matter how many times you fail, you only need to be right one time and then everybody tells you you’re an overnight success. To get them started and failing early and learning and succeeding and going through the whole process, I think that’s how the future stars, the future Elon Musk and the future Bill Gates, are born.”

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