Supporting a culture of youth entrepreneurship in Lansing and beyond

On Wednesday, Apr. 30, 55 local student entrepreneurs, along with teachers, local businesses, attendees and judges, gathered at the Lansing Center for the First Annual Pure Lansing Celebrates Youth Entrepreneurship event. Set up like a tradeshow, student innovators had the chance to share business plans that represented their own ideas or inventions for the opportunity to win cash prizes to help them make their ideas a reality.


For all their work in the startup spaces in Lansing, Sara Graham, Talent and Communications Director for LEAP, said they hadn't yet had the opportunity to work with youth and thought it was important to do so; "The next big idea could come from a student in High School now," says Graham.  The Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) received a grant in 2013 from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to develop the culture of youth entrepreneurship throughout Lansing and the surrounding region and since then, preparations for the event have been in full swing.
After receiving the grant, LEAP and the Generation E institute began working together to train local educators, or those working closely with students, as youth entrepreneurship curriculum facilitators (they held 7, two day training sessions and certified 58 people to teach an entrepreneurship curriculum). These teachers then helped spread the entrepreneurship culture throughout their community by encouraging students to participate in the clubs and classes they facilitated.
After the training it seemed only natural to have an event that would allow the kids that participated to show off their businesses and prototypes.
Outstanding Ideas and Participation
Getting support for the initiative and the event wasn't difficult and Graham said that everyone they approached was very excited to participate. Sponsors included; Dean Transportation, MSUFCU, Sparrow, LEAP, Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, NeoGen, Harvest, Accident Fund, Spartan Innovations, Prima Civitas. Each sponsor provided prize money and a judge. Other participants included; Lansing Community College, Davenport, Michigan State University, Junior Achievement and the Business Processionals of America. All the participants were there to provide support and future resources to the students.
Graham and others involved in the event were all impressed by the caliber and uniqueness of the ideas and business plans presented. Ideas ranged from computer repair and cupcakes, to necklaces and jewelry made from old guitar pieces. Other ideas included; organic lip gloss, all natural dog treats, and a DJ business that is already prepared to open franchisees in Europe. Some especially unique ideas mentioned were a map/coloring book meant to familiarize new students with their school and a pet boarding facility where an app will you to monitor your pets heart rate if they are chipped.
Kristen Beltzer, Sr.Vice President, Gov. Relations & Public Affairs at the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce was a judge and was intrigued by what she saw, "We have incredible talent in Michigan's schools!  I was very impressed with the professionalism, confidence and all-around creativity of these young entrepreneurs."
The winners were judged on their plan, presentation and display, which led to some unique and engaging tables. The student that had the DJ business even brought in his tables, fog machine and lights, while another student brought in an ATM with fake money. Sixteen businesses were awarded cash for a total of $10,000 in prizes. The top three winners won $1,000. Those businesses were; I Love My Lips, Eaton Rapids High School Photography, and Mountain Cupcakes. Other prizes were given for the Best Business Plan, an Environmentally Friendly Award, and an Innovation Award, among others.
The students that were really serious about their ideas were put in touch with resources in the area including The Hatch, and Tony Willis and Quinn Stinchfield of LEAP. "It's important to get them (the students) thinking about their careers at a younger age and work to plug them into that pipeline," says Graham.
Positive Feedback
The students seemed to agree that the event was important and they were all pleased to have the opportunity to participate. On the surveys they were asked to fill out they said things like, "It's amazing, this is the best day of my life," and also said it helped to teach them how to be confident in their ideas and interact with people and gave them great insight on what to expect in the future. One even referred to the event as "magical."
Gaining these skills at a young age will help the students as they build a future in business or other careers.  "I have no doubt they will be making significant contributions to their communities and to Michigan's economy," added Kristen Beltzer of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Besides the resources and prizes, the student participants were also given advice by keynote speaker Andre Hutson, former MSU basketball player and business owner. Hutson told the students about the 5 goals he set when he was a kid and how he has accomplished them all, including owning his own business. The students got the opportunity to ask questions and when asked why he chose MSU, he told them that the MSU team worked harder than any he had seen.
Given the success of the event, a Second Annual Pure Lansing Celebrates Youth Entrepreneurship seems inevitable and Graham, LEAP and everyone involved have big ideas for next year's event. "We want to enhance what we are doing and make it a challenge," says Graham, "A whole day of pitch competitions, 3D printing and every resource you could ever think of."


Allison Monroe is a frequent contributor to Capital Gains.
Photos © Gary Shrewsbury
Gary is a freelance photographer and owner of Shrewsbury Photography.
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