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Visa: Steve Burke (703) 683-5004 ext. 108
NFIB YEF: Melissa Sharp 202-554-9000

NFIB and Visa USA Announce 2006 "Young Entrepreneur of the Year" Winner

Mississippi Teen Starts Non-Profit to Help Families In Need Fulfill Home Ownership Dream

Washington, DC An 18-year old founder of a non-profit business that buys, renovates and sells abandoned homes to families in need has won the 2006 National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB)/Visa USA "Young Entrepreneur of the Year" Award, the two parties announced today.

In recognition of her entrepreneurial achievements and spirit, Ashley Gunn of Brandon, Mississippi has been awarded a $10,000 educational scholarship. It will be sent to the University of Pennsylvania to help defray the cost of her tuition, this coming fall. Ms. Gunn was chosen for this top honor among four other regional winners of the NFIB/Visa USA Young Entrepreneur Award.

"This year's 'Young Entrepreneur of the Year' and the four regional winners are an impressive group of young men and women," said Don V. Cogman, chairman of NFIB's Young Entrepreneur Foundation. "We are proud to be partners with Visa in identifying, recognizing and helping this raw talent grow and prosper, to become successful business owners in the future."

Ms. Gunn is the founder and chairman of Students Aiding Indigent Families (SAIF), a non-profit organization that buys, renovates and sells abandoned homes to families in need, usually single mothers, at below-market value. Ms. Gunn first thought of this business idea after returning from a mission trip to Africa in the summer before entering the 7th grade. Moved by the poverty and despair all around her while in Africa, she was determined to help address similar needs back home in her Jackson, Mississippi community. On track to generate $100,000 in revenue this year, SAIF has been certified by the Mississippi Secretary of State and all proceeds from their home sales go toward providing college scholarships to deserving students who are in need.

"Ashley and SAIF are great examples of how doing the right thing can make good business sense," said Rhonda Bentz, vice president, Visa USA. "She has made a significant, lasting contribution to her community, and her ingenuity should be an inspiration to all young, aspiring business owners."

"I want to thank both NFIB and Visa for their generosity and support of my efforts to help improve the lives of families and students in my community," said Gunn. "I am so grateful for the financial assistance they are providing to help me further my education."

The NFIB/Visa USA "Young Entrepreneur of the Year" award is given annually to the top applicant in the NFIB Young Entrepreneur Awards program, sponsored by NFIBís Young Entrepreneur Foundation. To earn a scholarship, students were asked to demonstrate their entrepreneurial achievement by answering a short, personal questionnaire defining their efforts.

Each applicant also composed an essay about the importance of free enterprise. Standardized test scores, GPA and class rank were also taken into consideration. Gunn was chosen by an independent selection committee from a field of more than 1,000 candidates who were nominated by NFIB members.

The four other regional winners of the NFIB/Visa USA Young Entrepreneur Award will each receive a $5,000 scholarship. They are:

  • Northeast Region Winner: Andrew J. Sohn of Teaneck, New Jersey, plans to attend Rutgers University. Mr. Sohn is the founder of Acend Productions, a complete media marketing company which creates complex data, content management and e-commerce systems for businesses looking to streamline operations through their computer systems.
  • Central Region Winner: Leah J. Hansen of Letcher, South Dakota, plans to attend South Dakota State University. Ms. Hansen breeds hunting Labrador puppies which she then sells to local hunting organizations for their banquet raffles.
  • Midwest Region Winner: Joseph A. Pascaretta of Rochester, Michigan, plans to attend the University of Michigan. Mr. Pascaretta has established Alps Technology International, an Internet technology firm for the website development market. Mr. Pascaretta is also the founder of a landscaping firm called The Alps Lawn Company.
  • Western Region Winner: Elliot Bradshaw of Bellingham, Washington, plans to attend the University of Washington. Mr. Bradshaw started his own web hosting business called Incognito Networks which hosts clientsí websites on the Internet.

For the third straight year, Visa has donated over $100,000 in scholarship money to the NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation to support the Young Entrepreneur Awards program. Since 2003, the NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation has awarded 1,115 Young Entrepreneur Award Scholarships totaling $1.18 million.

Additionally, The National Federation of Independent Businessí Young Entrepreneur Foundation, in partnership with Visa USA, have recently announced a new online curriculum to teach budding entrepreneurs the basics of how to start a business. Teachers can download the free program from both Visaís Practical Money Skills for Life financial education program,; and the NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundationís Entrepreneur-in-the-Classroom programs,

About Visa USA
Visa USA is the nationís leading payment brand and largest payment system, enabling banks to provide their consumers and business customers with a wide variety of payment alternatives tailored to meet their evolving needs. Visa USA is committed to increasing the choice, convenience, acceptance and security of Visa payments for all stakeholders in the payment system - members, cardholders and merchants. Through its 13,432 member financial institutions, more than 510 million Visa-branded cards have been issued to cardholders in the United States. Last year, U.S.-based financial institutions relied on Visaís processing system, VisaNet, to facilitate $1.6 trillion in transactions with unparalleled reliability.

Worldwide, cardholders in more than 150 countries carry more than 1 billion Visa-branded cards, accounting for more than $3 trillion in annual transaction volume.

Visa offers a trusted, reliable and convenient way to access and mobilize financial resources - anytime, anywhere, anyway.

About NFIB
The NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization promoting the importance of small business and free enterprise to the nationís youth. The Foundation is associated with the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), the nationís largest small-business advocacy group. A nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded in 1943, NFIB represents the consensus views of its 600,000 members in Washington and all 50 state capitals. More information is available at

To schedule an interview with Ashley Gunn, the four Regional Winners or Rhonda Bentz of Visa, please contact Steve Burke at (703) 683-5004, ext. 108

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