HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Levi Pryor, 14, has always had a passion for sneakers. He enjoys the statement they make and the comfort they provide. But almost two years ago, when he wanted new shoes, Levi had to turn to creative ways to switch up his kicks.
"I didn't have the money to buy a new pair, so I decided to change the ones I had," Levi, a home-schooled eighth-grader in Quincy, Ill., said. So, he picked up a paint brush and used his sneakers as a canvas. The moment served as inspiration this year for starting his own business, Master Kicks.
Levi is one of four local students who will complete Hannibal's Young Entrepreneurs Academy this week.
The national program is in its second year in Hannibal, and the community is the only one in Missouri to offer it. As part of the months-long academy hosted by the Hannibal Area Chamber of Commerce, teens develop their own businesses, then obtain a business license to run it. The program concludes after a "Shark Tank"-style investor panel at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Hannibal-LaGrange University's Roland Fine Arts Center.
"Afterward, I hope to do Master Kicks as much as I can," Levi said. "I've done tiger stripes, a galaxy theme -- I can do anything with a paint brush and air brush. I really hope Master Kicks takes off."
Other students in the program also took a creative approach to their businesses.
Hannibal siblings Katie and Benjamin Tracy have started a blog and videography service, respectively.
Katie Tracy, a home-schooled senior, details people's interesting or inspiring ?stories on thelongandshortofitall.com.
"I have a friend who went to Africa as a missionary for three years, so I interviewed her and am working on writing it now," she said. "I've always enjoyed writing and crafting stories and poetry, so I'm excited to be able to put those skills to use in telling other people's stories."
Her brother has started Imago, a video service for sports programs, graduating seniors and eventually weddings. The business name is a nod to Benjamin's three years studying Latin. "Imago" translates to "image" in English.
"It was hard for me to figure out what I wanted to do coming into the program," Benjamin, a sophomore, said. "I've always enjoyed making videos as a hobby, so now I'm just trying to get better at it."
Fellow entrepreneur Chad Otten, a Hannibal High School junior, joined the Young Entrepreneurs Academy so he could improve his existing business, Otten Landscaping and Lawncare, which he's been running since March 2017. Thus far, he's learned how to make it more professional, Otten said.
"I've learned more about pricing and what to charge for services. I've also gotten a logo and business cards, so those are all good ways to put myself out there more," he said. "I've actually got a lot of clients lined up, and now I'm backed up with work."
Although the program initially started with seven students, losing three students and their business ideas is not necessarily a bad thing, said McKenzie Disselhorst, Hannibal Area Chamber of Commerce executive director, .
"That happens in the business world, too. For one reason or another, not all businesses make it," she said. "It's better to figure out the time commitment and logistics of running a business now rather than when you're older, have a mortgage and a family to support.
"This year we have a great group of students, and I'm really proud of them. They've exceeded my expectations."