Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

A Tale of Two Shepards: Cate and Aidan Shepard’s Winning Business Plans

Two Shepards holding a trophyWhat runs in a family? Maybe brown eyes or an innate love of Italian food? For the Shepards, it’s the entrepreneurial spirit.

On April 30th, 2020, the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship held the annual Chancellor’s High School Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition (CHSIE) over Zoom (as hustle doesn’t quit in the face of social distancing). The 2020 ‘for profit enterprise’ competition winner was Cate Shepard, a sophomore at Topsail High School, whose interests in programming, hacking, and cybersecurity led her to pitch Cactus Security.

“My idea was to hire high school students and allow them to get more experience with cybersecurity, and service small businesses in the area,” Cate explains. “As a business, we would fulfill their basic security needs in a way that’s simple but still effective and saves them from a lot of easy hacks.”

Cactus Security would hire tech-savvy teens to test and proof small businesses against simple hacking and malware. “Simple protection is the point,” reads the business’s tagline. She pitched the company alongside several other high school students and won the competition’s $1,500 grand prize in her track. 

In her pitch, Cate referenced her participation in Girls Go CyberStart, a national cybersecurity education and competition program for high school-aged girls, which taught her about ethical hacking. The experience inspired the idea for her business. But her participation in the Chancellor’s High School Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition was inspired by her family.

Her older brother, Aidan Shepard, participated in the 2015 CHSIE competition and took first prize for his entrepreneurial idea—Candy Compass, a startup that developed monthly subscription boxes themed around candy from different countries.

Aidan launched his business as an actual company, which developed several boxes and moved through a few different phases, until it “got too big” to handle. Ultimately, he put the project on hold after 2018, focusing on his other passion—music—and on his freshman year at UNCW.

“I am her older brother and I’ve done this before,” Aidan says, “but she did this competition mostly by herself. I gave her some pointers with her presentation, but the idea was hers.”

Both Shepards cite their parents as role models.

“There was definitely some influence from our mom to do it,” Aidan recalls. “She pushed both of us, and without that I don’t know if this would have happened. She really supports us and helps us.”

Aidan is a music major at UNCW, and Cate, though still a high school sophomore, feels more called to the fields of cybersecurity, chemistry, and forensics than to full-time entrepreneurship. But both Shepards agree that a foundation in business and an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit can benefit any person.

Asked if they’d ever consider going into business together, Aidan and Cate burst into laughter. “Maybe” is their answer.

“It is a possibility to make Cactus Security happen for real,” Cate says, noting that the most difficult part of the competition was figuring out how she could legally hire teenagers for the business. “I realized it’s more possible than I thought it would be, so maybe in the future I would like to.”

Written by Nikki Kroushl: Nikki is a higher education professional who occasionally moonlights as a freelance writer and editor. See her LinkedIn or email to get in touch.