Hundreds of young people have explored entrepreneurship through the Florida 4-H Gator Pit program. Now in its seventh year, the program is welcoming its next cohort of young innovators.
Through several workshops, Gator Pit helps youth ages 14 to 18 take something they are passionate about and turn it in to a viable business idea. The program culminates in a final competition where participants pitch their business plan to a panel of judges with business backgrounds. Winners can earn up to $1000 in seed funding to make their business idea a reality.
Online sessions begin March 9 and are held weekly. These are followed by pitch practice in May and the final competition in June. The program is entirely virtual. Learn more about how to sign up at the Gator Pit website.
“I highly recommend it,” said Bryan White, 18, who lives in Osceola County and participated in Gator Pit in 2021. “Gator Pit will help you pitch your idea, get clients and promote yourself online. It teaches you a lot about being a business owner, and it’s a great place to meet other people with similar interests.”
Bryan, who has been a part of 4-H since elementary school, used what he learned in Gator Pit to improve his family’s lawn care business, Alaya Faith Lawn Care and More. Gator Pit gave him new ideas for how to brand and promote the business more broadly.
“I made a video, business cards and shirts,” he said. “I also invested in two new weed eaters, which allows us to do more lawns. We’re getting new jobs all the time, and soon I hope we can get a bigger vehicle and a trailer for our equipment.”
Clay County resident Taylor Thigpen, 16, took part in Gator Pit in 2020 and 2021 (winning first place in 2021). A horticulture enthusiast, Taylor used the Gator Pit competition to develop a business around selling plants and plant cuttings. The seed money he earned through the program helped him launch Plant King USA.
“Never would I have imagined how my idea would take off and still be fast-growing today, two years later,” Taylor said. “I continued to reinvest profits to grow my backyard business into a full-time greenhouse operation. Plant King USA is now a licensed nursery that has shipped thousands of plants to all 50 states and two countries with a 5-star e-commerce certificate.”
Plant King USA now has several employees to keep the business running. Taylor has used his success to give back to his community, leading workshops in the Jacksonville area and offering scholarships for high school students.
In addition to incubating business ideas, Gator Pit teaches youth valuable life skills that prepare them for adulthood, said Vanessa Spero, regional specialized 4-H Extension agent, who coordinates the program.
“Through this process, youth learn goal setting, financial literacy, communication and marketing skills,” Spero said. “Youth also leave the program equipped them with tools and connections to help them develop their business further.”
4-H is the youth development program of the land-grant university system and Cooperative Extension System. The program provides hands-on educational programs and experiences for youth ages 5 to18 with the objective of developing youth as individuals, and as responsible and productive citizens. In Florida, 4-H is administered by University of Florida/IFAS Extension and Florida A&M University. Learn more at florida4h.org.