Student businesses build on LaGrange County’s success

August 22nd, 2018

By Louisa Danielson | Input Fort Wayne

What does it take to start a new business in LaGrange County? The LaGrange County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) decided to give students the chance to find out with an annual contest, Launch LaGrange.

About to start its fourth year, the Launch LaGrange program gives high school students the opportunity to design and start their own businesses. It’s a county-wide competition that includes students from all three public high schools and Howe Military Academy.

According to Melissa Pettit, who is the Office Manager of the LaGrange County EDC, students are informed about the contest when teachers at their schools put up posters advertising the competition—usually in September.

“Schools have their own competitions if they have enough (participants),” Pettit said, “And then there is a county competition.”

This past year, there were six overall contestants who competed in the county-wide competition. Of those six, three were chosen for the grand prize, first prize, and second runner-up.

The grand prize winner Peyton Schrock received a $5,000 startup grant for his business Schrock Mobile Poultry Butchering and Processing, along with a $150 cash prize. His concept is to provide chickens, feed, and butchering services for those who want to raise their own poultry for meat without the hassle of transporting or butchering—a business that will serve the rural communities of LaGrange County well.

According to Pettit, student projects for Launch LaGrange are graded on four areas: product market fit; team makeup and presentation; money and financial projections; and business, story, and vision.

Judges for the competition include former winners, as well as representatives from Ivy Tech, Indiana Tech, Goshen College, Farmers State Bank, and other area businesses.

All of the top three winners received a range of scholarship offers from Indiana Tech, Ivy Tech, and Goshen College to further their educations, as well.

Pettit says the goal of Launch LaGrange is to “get high schoolers thinking about being in business (in LaGrange County)” and “bring more business to the county.”

The grand prize-winning business from the 2016-17 contest is an example of these ideas called Shipshewana Pedicabs.

Created by a team of students—Isaiah Lehman, Josh Grogg, and Erik Mellinger—the business uses electric-assisted bicycle-driven passenger cabs to take guests from the hotel to the Shipshewana market, on tours, and over area bike trails.

Now operating in its second year, Shipshewana Pedicabs helps the LaGrange County region capitalize on its local Amish businesses and attractions, while putting students to work investing in their community.

Its active Instagram account shows people of all ages enjoying the rides and draws attention to other regional businesses, as well.

That’s what Launch LaGrange is all about, says President and CEO of the LaGrange County EDC Bill Bradley.

It’s about attracting and retaining talent and industries in LaGrange County and building on everything the area has to offer.