By NICOLE ANTONUCCI
HAGAMAN -- Amsterdam High School graduate LeiLei Secor was dubbed the national "2014 Entrepreneur of the Year" Wednesday after receiving a $15,000 educational scholarship for her endeavors.
Secor owns an online jewelry business, Designed By Lei, specializing in custom design and handmade jewelry. Since creating her business in 2012, she has sold more than 8,000 pieces in more than 30 countries.
At a ceremony in Washington, D.C., Secor was awarded the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award through the National Federation of Independent Business Young Entrepreneur Foundation. The $15,000 scholarship will be used toward her tuition at the University of Virginia.
"I am so grateful for this experience and to be honored as the Young Entrepreneur of the Year," Secor said. "Throughout this process I have realized how much work it takes to be a small-business owner and it is wonderful to be recognized with all of the other finalists. NFIB has provided me with a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget."
Secor said in a previous interview she is surprised by how quick her business has grown. It originally began as a way to make some money over the summer. She decided to sell her handmade jewelry on Etsy.com, an online marketplace where people around the world connect to buy and sell unique goods.
In the first year of opening her shop, Secor sold 5,500 pieces of handmade jewelry that included wire wrap rings and earrings targeted to women. Today, Designed By Lei has sold more than 8,000 pieces in more than 30 countries.
Secor said she didn't realize how rewarding it would be until she was among five high school seniors chosen nationwide in April as finalists for the scholarship.
The awards are part of a program that is designed to recognize, reward and encourage young men and women to pursue their dreams of owning and operating a small business.
"The Young Entrepreneur Foundation is honored to award Ms. Secor with the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award," said Molly Young, senior manager of the Young Entrepreneur Foundation. "Her entrepreneurial accomplishments are impressive, creative and she is successful in an extremely competitive market. We are pleased to be able to be a part of her journey as a business owner, student and artist. NFIB is proud to congratulate and support LeiLei's efforts in pursuing her entrepreneurial and educational dreams."
Since 2003 NFIB's Young Entrepreneur Foundation has awarded more than 2,500 scholarships worth more than $2.5 million to graduating high school seniors.
To qualify for an NFIB Young Entrepreneur Award, students must be seniors in high school who own and/or operate their own small business. They are required to write an essay describing their entrepreneurial endeavors and future goals. NFIB members around the country interviewed the applicants for the Young Entrepreneur Awards.