By Pat Melgares

MANHATTAN, Kan. – She’s not yet in college, but Bridget Stanton has a pretty good gig already in place for when she gets there.

Stanton, an 18-year-old former 4-H’er whose family farms near Leonardville, has established a promising business which recently earned her a second consecutive win in a regional competition of the Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge.

The contest, which aims to support youths who have a concept that could lead to a future business, is in just its second year in Manhattan.

This year’s winners advance to the state competition, which will take place April 24 at Kansas State University.

Stanton formed a business, Bridge Digital Marketing, about 13 months ago to use social media and graphic design services in creating cost-effective marketing strategies for small businesses.

She earned $1,500 for winning the regional contest each of the past two years, money provided by Network Kansas, which sponsors regional and state competitions. Network Kansas established the program in 2013.

“I’ve learned so much through the Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge,” Stanton said. “Last year, I was just getting my business started, and it was a great way to put a business plan into writing and get to know some other entrepreneurs. I learned a lot.”

She used the money she won last year to buy a laptop with graphic design software. In her first year, she took on 11 clients and had $7,100 in gross earnings, she said.

“I love doing graphic design and social media marketing and I plan to do it through college,” said Stanton, who is planning to attend Providence Baptist College in Elgin, Illinois, next fall. “Certainly on a campus with many people who are well versed with social media, I could even expand and add some employees.”

Fifteen-year-old Brook Staten, a member of the Leonardville Hustlers 4-H Club, also participated in the regional competition in Manhattan, and said the experience is going to benefit her as she forms her career goals.

“The Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge has really helped me get kick-started in something that I’m passionate about, especially advocating for BLM (Bureau of Land Management) mustangs and conserving our American land,” she said. “This has provided me an opportunity to get my name out and get the idea out of the crisis and need for adoption of BLM mustangs.”

Staten’s idea is to establish a business offering trail rides in the Kansas Flint Hills. Her idea is to help save the American mustang through a business that will adopt and train the animals and spread education about the need to care for the wild horses.

“I really hope to create this into a working business, because the crisis of the over-population of mustangs is something that I’m very passionate about, and I’m very passionate about conserving our American lands,” she said. “Being able to promote the Flint Hills and the BLM American mustang really means something to me.”

There were 31 regional competitions across Kansas in this year’s Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge, and each of the winners will participate in the Kansas Entrepreneurship Challenge on April 24. In addition, there will be as many as 15 wild-card spots available for the state competition through a review process of interested applicants.

Kansas State University, Network Kansas and the Kansas Masonic Foundation are partners in providing awards for the Kansas Entrepreneurship Challenge, which will offer $5,000 for first place, $4,000 for second, and $3,000 for third. The money is intended to boost the youth’s business idea.

“I think it’s important for everyone if you have a dream, you can work for it and you can make it come true,” Stanton said. “If you can dream it, you can do it. Hard work, that’s the key, just keep working at it and do something you’re passionate about.”

The competition in Manhattan was also sponsored by the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce, and the K-State Research and Extension office in Riley County.