Thirteen-year-old Condoleezza Semien, CEO and founder of Beluga Bliss, was selected to represent the Young Entrepreneurs Academy of Baton Rouge at a national pitch competition in New York after impressing an investor panel with her aromatherapy-filled pillows.
Semien’s business sells pillows filled with lavender, rosemary and other scents frequently tied to aromatherapy. The eighth-grader at Westdale Middle School is targeting people with depression and chronic illnesses such as lupus, from which both her mother and best friend suffer.
All of the YEABR pitch night participants—18 students representing 15 businesses—received some level of funding Wednesday, ranging from $500 to $2,500. Others receiving $2,500 include InstaBrush, a toothbrush head that attaches to toothpaste, and Reaction Relief, a reversible cooling and heating pack for injured athletes that doesn’t require a microwave or freezer.
During Semien’s two-and-a-half minute pitch, she asked the panel for a $2,100 seed investment to purchase supplies to make her first round of pillows and set up a professional website. She ended up pocketing $2,500 from the seven-person panel, which consisted of representatives from local organizations and businesses.
“It’s not so much about the money for me,” Semien tells Daily Report. “It’s about getting people to know that this is very real in people’s lives, but people can still get some sort of relief even though there isn’t a cure.”
While the program still has a few weeks of classes left, YEABR steering committee member Sarah Munson says they’re already taking applications for the 2019-2020 class. Applications will remain open through August, with the next class of 25-30 students beginning in September.
The program is a local affiliate of a national nonprofit founded in 2004 at the University of Rochester in New York, and was launched by former Starmount Life Insurance President Deborah Sternberg as a way to offer high school students an opportunity to transform their ideas into valuable enterprises.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Condoleezza Semien’s name. Daily Report regrets the error.