“I am a 15-year-old, Native American, high school freshman from Robeson County,” remarked Naomi Blackwell as she bravely addressed the 450 attendees at the inaugural North Carolina Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Summit in Raleigh in late November.
Hosted by NC Idea in conjunction with the Governor’s Entrepreneurial Council, The Summit, was an official event of Global Entrepreneurship Week. UNC Pembroke’s Thomas Entrepreneurship Hub was among the event’s major sponsors.
As a middle schooler, Naomi attended Communities in Schools (CIS) Academy in Pembroke. During the students eighth grade year they participated in The Hub’s Icehouse Young Entrepreneurship Program in which they worked in groups to solve a problem. At the end of the year, they pitch their idea “Shark Tank” style. Dr. Barry O’Brien, dean of UNCP’s School of Business, served as one of the judges. He recalls, “Naomi had such confidence. She got up in front of the panel with her group, immediately taking charge of their presentation. It was inspiring to witness.”
“We were proud to support the inaugural Ecosystem Summit. We believe strongly that entrepreneurship builds economic vitality. And as an enthusiastic, smart and talented young entrepreneur from Lumber Bridge, Naomi Blackwell’s talk is a perfect example of why we are so confident in the future of this region,” said Thomas Hall, executive director of the Thomas Entrepreneurship Hub.
At The Summit, Naomi spoke about her group’s decision to fix the county’s pollution problem, specifically as it relates to litter, by placing a mandated microchip in cars. The chip detects and stores data as it relates to trash thrown out of the automobile, passing it on to police stations as the vehicle travels through stoplight cameras.
In 1992, CIS of Robeson County was established to address high dropout rates. What they have discovered is that the skills and lessons gained through The Hub’s young entrepreneurship program are invaluable. Now a freshman at St. Pauls High School, Naomi is more than prepared because she was challenged during her time at CIS Academy. She is now taking multiple honors courses and embracing her confidence.