BankRI grant supports local students’ business ideas

AT THE END of this past school year, four students from Highlander Charter School in Providence were awarded a Shark Tank Scholarship to advance their business ideas and explore entrepreneurship after presenting their projects to a panel of judges through the school’s Aspiring Business Owners and Entrepreneurs pilot program. Funds used to support the scholarships were provided by a Bank Rhode Island charitable grant. Pictured from left: Manny Barrows, senior vice president and team leader, BankRI; students Jeremy Anim, Kaelyn Rodriguez, Nicole Benitez and Nicholas Middlemiss; and Will Tsonos, senior vice president and director of commercial banking, BankRI. / COURTESY BANK RHODE ISLAND

PROVIDENCE – At the close of the 2017-18 school year, four Highlander Charter School students shared in a total of $2,000 worth of Shark Tank Scholarships from Bank Rhode Island to advance their business ideas and explore entrepreneurship.

A new addition to Highlander’s Aspiring Business Owners and Entrepreneurs pilot program, the competition, styled after the “Shark Tank” reality TV show, saw eight students present business ideas to a panel of volunteer judges and was funded by a $2,500 grant from BankRI.

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The scholarship winners, each of whom are rising seniors at the Providence-based charter school, and their projects:

  • Nicole Benitez, an aspiring photographer, was awarded funds to purchase Adobe Photoshop software to learn to edit digital images.
  • Kaelyn Rodriguez, already a business owner, designs sneakers and baseball hats. Her scholarship will be used to purchase equipment and supplies that will allow her to grow and scale her business.
  • Jeremy Anim, digital banner designer, produces online graphics for various YouTube channels. He plans to use the scholarship funds to purchase components to build a new computer with advanced capabilities that will help him expand his services.
  • Nicholas Middlemiss, a gamer, is currently working to produce a 3-D model that will develop code and translate his work into a video game.

Shark Tank participants wrote essays outlining their entrepreneurial ideas, how they planned to use scholarship funds if selected and how their business plans would further their career goals.

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Once a student’s idea was accepted, they were invited to present their proposal to a panel of volunteer judges, which included Manny Barrows, senior vice president, team leader, BankRI; Will Tsonos, senior vice president, director of commercial banking, BankRI; Dan Shedd, CEO, Taylor Box Co.; Jock Hayes, director of audience and engagement for East Bay Newspapers; Rose Mary Grant, head of school, Highlander Charter School; and Frank Picciotti, human resources director and business manager, Highlander Charter School.

The program is held in partnership with Shedd, whose Warren-based company has welcomed 15 to 20 students the past two years to introduce them to and teach them about the various aspects of running a business.

Emily Gowdey-Backus is a staff writer for PBN. You can follow her on Twitter @FlashGowdey or contact her via email,

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