Invention Convention sharpens high schoolers’ entrepreneurial visions



A barber whomakes house calls.

A photography studio thatknows what young people want.

These were some of the ideas presented by area high school students at the third annual Invention Convention Youth Business Plan Competition, April 21 in the Mendoza College of Business. The student presentations, augmented by flashy Power Point displays, culminated a yearlong program that matched staff and students from theGigotCenterfor Entrepreneurial Studies with youth entrepreneurs affiliated with the Robinson Community Learning Center (RCLC).

Some of the businesses have already been launched informally; the high school entrepreneurs just lack the time to devote to them. But in the past year, theyve refined their ideas by forming aggressive marketing plans.Theyve come up with financial data and strategies for dealing with competitors, and even determined how their businesses could contribute philanthropically to the community.

They learned these kinds of organizational structures in part through a Web-based curriculum provided by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). TheGigotCenterunderwrites the cost of the software and training for its staff, whose members work with RCLC staff to teach it to high school students. TheGigotCenteraugments the program with visits from other members of theCollegeofBusinessfaculty.

Among those trained is Gigot staff member Jessica McManus Warnell, coordinator of the Invention Convention, who worked with the high school students at theRobinsonCommunityLearningCenter. An associate adjunct professor in theBusinessCollege, she says she enhances the NFTE curriculum with lessons on the psychology of entrepreneurship, orwhat would motivate someone to start their own business.

Bob Drevs, who teaches a University class on Internet marketing, guides the would-be inventors on the importance of Web marketing and shows them how to build effective, customer-oriented Web sites.

TheGigotCenteralso assigns six University student mentors who meet regularly with the high school students.We call it ‘championing them through the business process,says McManus Warnell.They would meet at the center, or bring them here on campus.A lot of it was one-on-one.

Members of the Notre Dame Entrepreneur Club served as judges for the final event. Questions focused on how each business would distinguish itself from whats already out there. The six high school students who presented survived three rounds of competition.

According to the judges, Dexter Brown, a student atAdamsHigh School, had the best concept, winning first place for his Dexter Brown Photography presentation. Don Robertson of Washington High won second for Michiana Floor Cleaning, and Willie Jones ofAdamswon third for Upper Cutz Barbering Services.They received cash awards of $500, $300 and $200, respectively.

Almost all of the high school students intend to pursue higher education, even while nurturing their entrepreneurial aspirations.

Luther Tyson,associate director for technology programs at the Robinson Center and an NFTE teacher, says the goal of the competition was not only for the studentsto develop businesses, but todevelop an entrepreneur mindset, and to know that they are never, ever a prisoner of the economy.The goal is to open their minds so they can meet consumer demands and translate opportunity into entrepreneurship.

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