Clark FFA member awarded $5,000 Venture Capital grant

Published 8:13 am Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Kaitlyn Wiseman braved the Shark Tank at Kentucky FFA Convention and came home with a sizeable grant to help grow her business.

Wiseman is a rising junior at George Rogers Clark High School and an active member of the school’s FFA chapter. She owns Kaitlyn’s Cacti, a horticulture business specializing in cacti. Wiseman recently took part in the Kentucky FFA Shark Tank, a grant competition styled after the popular TV show with the same name.

FFA members in ninth through 11th grades were invited to submit a four- to six-minute video explaining their enterprise and how a grant would help advance their business. Wiseman was one of 10 finalists selected to present her idea live in front of a panel of judges and an audience, which eventually led to her selection as one of the five $5,000 grant recipients.

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“I was a little nervous at first, but once I got up on stage it was OK,” she said. “I forgot a little bit, but I just kept going, stayed positive, and hoped for the best.”

Wiseman discovered her interest in cacti when her parents brought home a make-your-own cacti planter kit from Arizona. The next year, her agriculture teacher purchased a packet of cactus seeds, and Wiseman’s business grew from there.

The student enterprises in the competition were also Supervised Agricultural Experience projects. All students who are in school-based agriculture classes in Kentucky have the opportunity to develop their own SAE and participate in leadership development through FFA. Both of those experiences complement the in-class instruction they receive.

“I don’t know of another youth organization that prepares a student to be career-ready like FFA,” said Darrell Billings, one of the judges for the final portion of the competition and a member of the Kentucky FFA Foundation board of trustees. “These kids leave high school understanding how to keep records, borrow money, get a return — it’s a real tribute to the way ag ed is set up in Kentucky and the way FFA rewards those kids who work hard.”

This year’s agriculture venture capital grants were made possible by a generous donation from Dr. Mark and Cindy Lynn.

“When Dr. Lynn gave us the money to use, he said just go make a difference,” said Billings. “That was opening us up to be able to change the whole world … and for these kids, he did.”

“I’ve always said if you’re feeling down about the future, come to the state FFA convention,” said Kyle Kelly, another final round judge and Kentucky FFA Foundation board of trustees member. “These students are really thinking outside of the box. We went from traditional SAE’s all the way up to a young man who had diversified into building roll cages for UTV’s. They’re already making money, investing money and putting money back into their local communities. Dr. Lynn and all of us will see a return on investment that will impact students for the rest of their lifetimes. We couldn’t have done that without his support.”

The Kentucky FFA Foundation cultivates partnerships which support the FFA vision to grow leaders, build communities, and strengthen agriculture. Kentucky FFA Foundation initiatives impact more than 14,500 FFA members in 154 FFA chapters across Kentucky.