- The Washington Times - Monday, April 6, 2009

It was Jada Nicome’s desire to help her Maltese-Pekingese, Niko, that propelled her into the top ranks of young Washington entrepreneurs and provided $1,500 in seed money to start K-9 Kouture, a fashion house for pets.

“Basically, Niko was the reason why I created this business,” Jada said. “I created this line out of love for my dog, and I know that there are pet owners who love and like to dress up their dogs.”

Jada, 16, a junior at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, took home the top prize from the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, an organization promoting the teaching of entrepreneurship to high school students, which held its 28thsemiannual competition for the D.C. region on Jan. 15.

“She is a good speaker and very charismatic,” said Beverly Johnson, Jada’s teacher who oversees Northwestern’s entrepreneurship class. “Her idea was very unique.”

“In these uncertain economic times, I think it is more important now than ever for people of all ages to understand entrepreneurship,” said Jeff Reid, executive director of the D.C. chapter of NFTE. “When young people learn about entrepreneurship, they learn to follow their passion and interests in ways that support their families and long-term educational goals.”

K-9 Kouture serves to clothe dogs as both a fashion statement and a way to stay warm. Owners submit designs for their dogs apparel, which Ms. Nicome then creates into the finished hoodies and T-shirts.

She even created a “hoodie” in honor of President Obama, who promised his daughters a dog if became president. The hoodie, which is patriotic in nature and has the words “First Dog” printed on it, was modeled by her dog at January’s competition. She eventually plans to send the creation to the Obamas at the White House.

Originally, K-9 Kouture was to include apparel for cats, but was adjusted since Jada lacked feline clothing models and is allergic to cats.

Unique to K-9 Kouture is the emphasis it places on giving back to the community. Recently, Jada created a hoodie to support local animal shelters. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the hoodie will be donated to animal shelters and animal adoption agencies. The words “Unconditional Love” are printed on each hoodie and represent the unconditional love that is shared between people and their pets.

“My business promotes animal adoption, while allowing the pet owners to express their own creativity and uniqueness into what their dog wears,” Jada said. “I feel it’s important to give back to the community.”

Jada said she wants to become a veterinarian, although she has considered marine biology and continuing her line of dog apparel. She is looking ahead to college with Stanford University, Yale University and Spelman College among her top choices.

“I’ve got a lot of ideas on my plate right now, so I’m not sure what I want to do yet,” Jada said. “I’m currently interested in any Ivy League school, though.”

Other winners of the entrepreneurship competition were seniors Roxanne Herbert and Kenneth Arey II of Parkdale High School who placed second and third respectively.

“Both Roxanne and Kenneth have great business and financial plans,” said Erin Cribbs, who teaches Parkdale’s entrepreneurship class. “They have passion and drive for what they do.”

Roxannewon $750 for the softball camp she created for girls ages 11-18.

Titled “Homerun Softball Camp,” her business is located at a local field in College Park that is Metro accessible. The camp is a five-day workshop that seeks to help girls improve their hitting and pitching skills, as well as prepare them for specialized positions on the softball field.

Roxanne’s love for softball and desire to help girls improve their softball skills inspired the creation of her camp.

“Softball is something I’ve been involved in since I was 5 years old,” she said. “I wanted to do something I loved that would also help the youth of our community.”

Roxanne wants to become a nurse, and is trying to decide where to attend college this fall.

Kenneth took home third place and $500 for his baking business.

He established “Libra Baked Goods” as a way to express his love of baking while maintaining a business. The business is mostly seasonal, filling the majority of orders through fall and winter. Among the items he creates are chocolates, homemade cookies and brownies.

ProStart, a Parkdale cooking class, also helped Kenneth prepare for his business.

“ProStart was the main component that drove my interest for creating ‘Libra Baked Goods’,” he said. “It was easy to come up with a business that revolved around what I was doing at the moment [in my cooking class].”

Kenneth has been accepted to Hampton University, where he hopes to explore his interests and find a career from which he can grow.

Runners-up in the competition include the following students, who received $50 for their respective businesses:

• Janay Benjamin of Parkdale High School, creator of Social Miss Conduct, a clothing line for women.

• Natesha Johnson of Bladensburg High School, creator of Avec Amour, a business specializing in handmade knitwear.

• Cindy Ruiz of Gar-Field High School, creator of Intuitions, a massage instruction business.

Jada will compete for $10,000 to fund her business when she presents her business plan at NFTE’s National Business Plan Competition on Oct. 7. She will have the opportunity to meet business, entrepreneurial and investment executives and other young entrepreneurs.

Mr. Reid believes that it is important for young people to be equipped with business and entrepreneurial skills to learn responsibility, as well as to learn how to cope when challenged.

“Young people are going to be faced with many challenges. Learning entrepreneurial skills will help students in many ways,” Mr. Reid said. “Learning to be an entrepreneur is learning to take ownership of your own life … knowing that students can determine their own economic future can help them build a great amount of confidence.”

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