Cullman Chamber YEA! member to compete to be America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneur 

Emily Butler (Photo courtesy of Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce)

CULLMAN, Ala. – The Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce announced Friday that a student in its expanded Young Entrepreneurs’ Academy (YEA!) has been selected to participate in a national “Shark Tank” style entrepreneurs’ competition.

On Saturday, Oct. 17, teens from around the country will compete to see who will be named America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneur at the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) 12th Annual Saunders Scholars National Competition. The “Shark Tank” style pitch competition will award more than $80,000 in cash prizes and college scholarships to the Saunders College of Business at Rochester Institute of Technology to the students with the best businesses in the U.S. Local viewers will be able to cast their vote for the People’s Choice Award.  

This year, 36 semifinalists will compete virtually, representing 35 middle and high schools from 20 states across the country for first, second, third and a People’s Choice Award.  For the first time ever, the competition will be broadcast live from Rochester, New York’s ABC-TV WHAM Channel 13 and will be streamed live over the web and able to be seen worldwide on YEA!’s YouTube channel and on Facebook live.  

Students enrolled in the YEA! program first competed locally in front of an investor panel in early 2020. The top business from each YEA! chapter across the country will now compete head-to-head in semi-final and final rounds at the Saunders Scholars National Competition to take place throughout the day Saturday, Oct. 17 from noon-8 p.m. Eastern Time, with the national winner announcements at 7:55 p.m. Eastern Time.  

The local semifinalist, college freshman Emily Butler of Northwest-Shoals Community College, was selected by local judges to advance to the National Competition for her start-up business More than the Reel.  

Butler participated in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy nine-month youth entrepreneurship program presented by and in partnership with the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce.  With the help of local entrepreneurs and business leaders, the student designed, pitched and launched More than the Reel, an online clothing and accessory line that aims to help teens live beyond their images on social media. More than the Reel donates 10% of every purchase to the Jed Foundation, a nonprofit that provides tools to help protect the emotional wellbeing of teens and young adults.  

“Through YEA! I learned that business doesn’t have to fit into a specific mold as I had assumed before. YEA! taught me what true entrepreneurship is!” shared Butler.      

Butler recently graduated with honors from Trinitas Classical Academy.  She maintained a 4.0 GPA while volunteering for local charities and working two jobs. ​Butler was named “Distinguished Young Woman” of Lauderdale County and selected for Youth Leadership Shoals.  She was also selected for Girls State and won the position of Commissioner of Agriculture & Industries at Alabama Girls State. ​

Butler was 1 of 10 students invited to participate in the Cullman chapter of Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!). Currently the only YEA! program in the state of Alabama, the Cullman chapter became regional for the 2019-2020 year by accepting students from all over north Alabama. Out of these 10 students, Butler was selected by a local panel of judges to advance to the Saunders Scholars Competition. ​

Butler will be pitching via YouTube live on Panel 2, scheduled to run from 12:30-2 p.m. CST, local time. Viewers must register in advance at to participate in the text-to-vote People’s Choice Award.  

This year’s Saunders Scholars National Competition is sponsored in part by the E. Philp Saunders Foundation, Southwest Airlines and the Saunders College of Business at the Rochester Institute of Technology.  

“We could not be more proud of the work these young people are doing and of our partners who are leading the charge across the Country delivering YEA!’s entrepreneurship education,” said YEA! founder and CEO, Gayle Jagel. Our local Chambers of Commerce, incubators, accelerators, universities, colleges and K12 partners who come together through YEA! are igniting the sparks of innovation in the entire community. Just imagine what our world would look like if every student got the chance to bring their ideas to life.”  

In a talk with The Tribune Friday afternoon, Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce Interim President and CEO Peggy Smith said of Butler, “She’s an outstanding young lady; we’re very proud to have her representing us. I’m just so excited! I hope she wins; I think she stands a really good chance.”

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W.C. Mann