Entrepreneurs inspire students with startup stories

November 18th, 2016

By Bridgett Hernandez | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

In celebration of National Entrepreneurship Month, Junior Achievement brought the stories of entrepreneurs to high school students across the region to inspire another generation of self-starters.

The week-long initiative put 100 entrepreneurs in classrooms, giving students the opportunity to learn the benefits and challenges of creating their own startups.

This was Junior Achievement’s first time organizing such an event, but positive feedback points toward bringing the program back next November, said Lena Yarian, president of Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana.

“With the enthusiasm we’ve had from the education community and the entrepreneurs, I can imagine it growing every year,” she said.

The participating entrepreneurs came from a variety of backgrounds, including videography, pet services and food trucks. Often, theirs have not been stories of overnight success.

“It’s interesting how eager people are to talk about their journeys,” Yarian said. “They’re willing to talk about the challenges. I think that is what will inspire students: If you keep trying and have enough passion and try enough doors, a door will open, and you will find an opportunity.”

She added that the program is a learning experience for the adults involved.

“Kids, educators and entrepreneurs will all walk away better for their involvement,” she said.

For participating entrepreneur Heather Schoegler, president of strategic consulting firm Augustus Advisors, the experience left her inspired by young people and feeling encouraged about the future.

“When you’re teaching in the classroom, inevitably you’re also learning, which is important for an entrepreneur or anyone in business,” she said. “I’ve learned that ideas can come from anywhere and from people of any age.”

A passion for helping others succeed inspired Schoegler to start her own business.

“I had identified some gaps and opportunities inside organizations and felt like I had some ideas to offer to improve efficiencies and reach desired goals,” she said.

The venture enabled her to branch out and help more organizations in her community.

She encourages students to take a close look at their own interests and pay attention to the “cues” that they’re already giving themselves.

“Whenever they’re interacting with an app or in a store and they think ‘If only it did that’ or ‘If only they had this’ … Any time they think that is an idea for a business,” she said.

Junior Achievement is encouraging high school students to share their ideas by entering their Entrepreneurship Month Contest. Three $200 cash prizes will be awarded to the top three ideas.

“The students were not only really excited about the opportunity to win money for their ideas; they were excited about the opportunity to share their ideas with others,” Schoegler said.

Angela Bell, Spanish teacher at Leo High School, whose classroom Schoegler visited, said the presentation engaged her students and prompted them to share their inventive ideas.

“I really enjoyed all the speakers,” she said. “They were well prepared and got the students involved and questioning. It was a good experience.”

Bell’s student, ninth grader Mica Allen, is interested in entering the contest with her idea for improving soft ball equipment.

“She wants to make an apparatus that is both a visor and a mask,” Bell said. “Right now she has two separate pieces – a visor to block the sun and a mask to protect her face – but the visor doesn’t adequately shield her eyes and she can’t wear sunglasses under the mask.”

For more information about the Entrepreneurship Month Contest, contact Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana at (260) 484-2543 or visit jani.org.