Albany, GA – Chelise Ethridge, owner and operator of animation art business Lovelise, was named the 2023 FLEX ABY champion at the third and final round of local competition held on March 16 at Albany State University West Student Center. The inaugural local competition is produced in partnership by the Albany Area Chamber Foundation, Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission and 4C Academy.
As the first-place winner, Ethridge is the recipient of $5,000 in prize money, which she will use to scale her animation business. She will go on to represent Albany-Dougherty County in the state FLEX competition in Fitzgerald on April 13.
Ethridge is a senior at the Commodore Conyers College and Career Academy (4C Academy), who through animation, uses art as a storytelling medium, primarily positioned on social media.
“My goal is to use my life experience and my status as a young entrepreneur as an inspiration to others, encouraging all people, but particularly young women, to pursue their passions and celebrate their individuality. Animation art allows me to share my stories with the world and encourage others to find the confidence to share theirs as well,” said Ethridge.
Ethridge says she plans to use the $5,000 in seed money to invest in design equipment and software for her business.
FLEX ABY is a preliminary competition in a statewide program, designed to encourage innovation, create prosperity and revitalize rural entrepreneurial ecosystems by exposing students to the rewards, challenges and processes associated with starting a business.
Originally founded in Fitzgerald, FLEX – which stands for “Foundational Leadership and Entrepreneur X-perience” – benefits students by not only providing them with real-world business experience, but also by enhancing employability skills such as accountability, collaboration and creative thinking.
“FLEX ABY is an effective and fun tool for inspiring innovation among our young people and showing them that their ideas can come to life and can be profitable while helping them develop the employability skills needed in the marketplace,” said Barbara Rivera Holmes, president & CEO of the Albany area Chamber and Albany Area Chamber Foundation. “Through the generous support of our business community, we have been able to provide these student businesses with the financial support and direction they need to start and grow their businesses. The vision is that one day, these students come back to Albany as fully developed business owners and become the business leaders of tomorrow.”
Over the 2023 season, the FLEX ABY field gradually narrowed from 20 students in round one, to 10 students in round two, to ultimately three finalists who competed in the March 16 finals.
Other finalists included 9th grader Andrew Dawson of Plug’s Kitchen, a specialty catering business which received second place; and 12th grader Zaria Davenport who operates Zari D Artistry, a custom, hand-painted shoe design company.
FLEX ABY kicked off its inaugural year in September 2022 with students from 4C Academy, which encompasses students from throughout the Dougherty County School System, as well as districts from surrounding counties. Organizers plan to scale FLEX ABY to include more area schools in future years.