Big ideas from young entrepreneurs

January 23rd, 2019

By Lisa Green | The Journal Gazette

Daniel Hart doesn't think 3D printing should require an engineering degree.

It should be simple – the kind of task you can do at home without it seeming like a task.

So the 2018 Ivy Tech graduate is on the road to entrepreneurship.

“3D printing for a number of years now has been a growing, kind of hobbyist style field, I guess, and it's always been dedicated just to the technically inclined people,” Hart said.

That means people who don't know a lot about mechanical engineering have “been kind of shut out.”

So under a planned business name of TechnoBabble, Hart said he is developing a 3D printer that will be consumer friendly. Buyers won't have to configure software; it will be loaded onto the printer – about the size of one you might buy retail, just a bit taller.

Hart hasn't set a price and is still fine-tuning the configuration for his printer, but the concept was solid enough for him to win a $1,000 microgrant from the local Farnsworth Fund.

“That was a handy addition,” he said last week.

Since graduating last spring, Hart's been working – currently in a maintenance office for a Huntington business. He has been getting feedback on his printer prototypes from TekVenture, which provides tools, networking, information and other resources for people who want to “make things.”

Hart is one of many youths in northeast Indiana who are learning entrepreneur skills – the challenges and rewards of running your own business.

Some are still in elementary school, such as Jade Henry, who makes jewelry from rubber bands.

The Farnsworth Fund that provided Hart seed money started in May 2018 and has given 78 grants. Some recipients haven't been announced yet, said Steve Franks, program manager for the fund.

Elevate Northeast Indiana launched the fund to provide $1,000 microgrants for new and student entrepreneurs. It's part of a $2 million partnership between private venture development organization Elevate Ventures and the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.

The local Farnsworth Fund evaluating committee found Hart's business idea a solid one to invest in, based on his passion and push.

“We love builders. First of all, he was a builder. He was the kind of guy that not only had an idea, but he's already several versions into building that idea out,” Franks said. “He had a definite idea of a problem he wanted to solve. He wasn't doing it just because he was a tinkerer. He was a tinkerer and a builder with a purpose.”

That kind of initiative is symbolic of the “biased action” Franks said the funding committee wants to encourage among young people and others in the community.

“Man,” he said, “if we just had a few thousand of those people around here, we'd be Silicon Valley.”

Hart, who lives near Columbia City, wants to live and locate his business in Fort Wayne. He's purchased a domain, but hasn't registered his business yet or populated his website with content.

He's taking slow, deliberate steps that he hopes lead to success. TechnoBabble isn't his first foray into business.

“I've always had an interest in having a business at some point,” Hart said.

As a high school student growing up near Fremont, Hart said he made and sold pre-made fry bread patties to restaurants. But he couldn't make them fast enough, without a significant equipment investment, to make the venture profitable without overpricing the product.

“It didn't go terribly well, but it was probably one of the best $500 lessons I've ever gotten. Much cheaper than school,” Hart said.

TechnoBabble doesn't have any employees, but Hart envisions the potential for growth and a staff.

“As for future plans, hopefully I can hire a few people to help me assemble the 3D printers,” he said. “Once I get it started, I have no idea where it will go, but I'm hoping it will go great.”

Jewelry maker

Anita Dortch says she saw the artistic side in her granddaughter at least eight years ago.

Jade Henry was 3 years old then. Today, she's 11, and turning her creativity into occasional cash, making colorful jewelry with rubber bands.

“I didn't expect her to be an entrepreneur. I just thought that was her gift, to be kind of artsy,” Dortch said, during an afternoon telephone interview while Jade was visiting during winter break.

A fifth-grader at Irwin Elementary School, Jade is the entrepreneur behind More Than Just An Art. Jade said she was 9 years old when she officially started the business, which is incorporated.

If you ask Junior Achievement about local youths who have a business, Jade's name comes up on a list.

Jade likes to draw and “create a lot of images,” Dortch said.

She takes weekly art classes at a local studio, and enjoys painting. She enjoys dance and ballet, and recites poetry, Dortch said.

The rubber band jewelry – creating rings, bracelets and necklaces – just kind of happened as a result of activity time during an after-school program at another school, Jade said.

Using rubber bands a friend had, she started looping them and learned to form bracelets with her hand. Of course, Jade said, some instructional videos on YouTube helped fine-tune her craft. She uses her hands, forks and other tools for her rubber band creations.

Jade estimates she's made about 100 pieces of jewelry and sold most through word of mouth. Her mother, Andrea Thomas, and grandmother, she said, show people what she makes. Jade has also taken her work to art shows and craft bazaars and sold out.

A necklace by Jade sells for $5, a choker for $3, bracelet for $2, and ring for 50 cents.

She's being prudent with the revenue, spending some, saving some and giving – usually 10 percent of her earnings – to her church.

And while Jade enjoys jewelry-making, her career sights are placed in other directions.

She wants to be cosmetologist. She also wants to be an ophthalmologist. And, she quickly adds, “and I want to be the president of the United States.”

“I like doing hair and nails and creating things, and so that's why I want to be a cosmetologist,” Jade said.

“And I want to be an ophthalmologist because it just interests me when I go to the eye doctor,” she said. “I'm hoping to get contacts when I'm 12 years old.”

So while Jade might be making a bit of cash for herself now, she ultimately expects to work for someone else.

The biggest lesson learned by having her own business?

Along with saving for college, Jade said, “I've learned how to save my money and invest my money and give my money to church and people in need.”