Most people may know Merrick Eng as the studious, intelligent recent graduate at Staten Island Technical High School. What some people may not see is his love of cooking.
So what happens when you mix those passions with support of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce Foundation?
Merrick creates the Eco Tip, an environmentally-friendly bag for culinary purposes allowing cake decorators to remove the tip from the outside of the bag. That creation was ingenious enough to garner third place in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy’s 10th Annual Saunders Scholars National Competition.
“I felt really passionate about my project. When I first started, I wasn’t sure how viable it was. But then after doing more research and actually trying to look at the mechanics of it and how it would work, I became more confident in the product,” said the 18-year-old. “In the local round, I had confidence in my project. I didn’t think too much about the competition. I just tried to put my presentation in the best light possible.
“For the regional and national competition, my main mindset was to have fun with it,” continued Staten Island Tech’s 2018 valedictorian. “I thought that no matter what would happen, it would be fine. I just wanted to get the exposure out there, try and sell my product, and see what other people thought about it.”
Merrick’s company — MasterMerrick — was one of 62 small businesses owned by teens that were selected to compete in the annual affair. But how Eng punched his ticket to Rochester, N.Y., certainly didn’t happen overnight.
Eng, who will study at the prestigious Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall, enrolled for the local Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!). Organized by the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce Foundation with Con Edison as the presenting sponsor, the program celebrated its fifth year.
The 20-week program – which is open to all high school students — meets weekly at Staten Island Technical HS and offers young entrepreneurs the opportunity to learn about all business facets such as proposals to funding to insurance. Business leaders from Staten Island lend their knowledge and some even offer tours of their businesses to give students a unique perspective.
According to Kim Powers Burbano, the program manager for the Foundation’s YEA! program, the curriculum is basically divided into two, 10-week installments. The first 10 weeks is the “Big Idea,” which entails brainstorming ideas, proof of concept, and the beginning stages of the business plan. The last 10 weeks is “The Pitch” as students finalize their business plan and prepare presentations for investors.
To secure funding, students have the opportunity to present their business idea in front of an Investors Panel that resembles the setup from the hit TV show, Shark Tank.
“It’s really a great program. What we think the biggest thing that differentiates this program is that kids get to start their own business. They graduate with a business. They graduate with something they have seed funding with. They’re a pro,” said Burbano.
“If they want to continue with it, they have the business in place where they can market themselves and move ahead,” she added.
“The main reason I wanted to sign up for the program is because I’ve always had these ideas in my mind,” said Eng, who also served as executive president of Staten Island Tech’s student council. “I never knew how to make these ideas happen. I wondered how could I act on these ideas and take them to market? So, when I heard about the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, I thought it was an opportunity to bring these ideas to life.”
Eng certainly had tough shoes to fill as last year’s local winner — Gabrielle Garcia — won the National Competition. Her “Stench Snipers,” an insert to deodorize and sanitize her smelly, sweaty hockey gloves, may have set the bar high, but that wasn’t an issue for Eng.
Michael Porpora is the Vice President at RPM Insurance and doubles as the first segment instructor of the YEA! Program. When he met all his students, he was able to see how Eng was a “classic overachiever.”
“When we were first trying to flesh out what your business model is, Merrick wanted to create something that he would have to invent the technology for in order to do his creation. He was just leap years ahead of where he needed to be,” recalled Porpora.
“With Merrick, it was a challenge. I had to throw my hands up in the air because he wouldn’t tone it down and come up with something that seemed more feasible,” he added. “And then he finally said this is something I’m passionate about. This is something I want to do. And then he was in it full bore.”
Despite being a co-founder of three companies — Wealth and Legacy Group, Lions Pride Leadership, and Empowering — Danielle Reyes still feels “blessed and honored” to team with the students as the second segment instructor.
“By that time, they have a good idea of what they want to do. What we do is we help them implement it,” said Reyes. “A business plan was just started and mentors come in from our community and come work alongside each student. As the mentors work with the students, the instructor then comes alongside and we all work as a team. We’re able to collaborate as much value and wisdom and how to proceed.”
After seeing the excitement and passion these students display during the sessions, it’s no wonder why Con Edison has signed on to be the presenting sponsor.
“Con Edison has been a part of the program since its inception. I was a program instructor for the first 10 weeks when it first started and I just saw the value – immediately – in terms of the partnership,” said Katia Gordon, director of Staten Island Regional & Community Affairs for Con Edison.
“I’ve seen some great, great things come out of this. These students are so smart. They have ideas that they don’t even know about. So the YEA! Program is absolutely essential to pull that information out of them and then bring them a viable business,” she said.
“When you graduate from this program, you’re not just getting qualities that you would use in a business setting. You’re also getting qualities that you would get in life,” said Eng.
In addition to Eng, graduates from this year’s YEA! Program were: Staten Island Tech High School’s Phillip Batov, Fion Lin and Gabriella Serebryanaya; Susan Wagner High School’s Maxim Kleyer; Curtis High School’s Noah Liebman; Tottenville High School’s Jalon Lopez; St. John Villa Academy’s Felicia Napoli; and Moore Catholic High School’s Weiting (Rachel) Zhang.