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Challenging Youth to Think Like Entrepreneurs

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

Critical thinking, problem-solving and leadership skills, are all a sub-set of the elusive “soft skills” our businesses say they want in their employees. In the marketplace of customers these skills are mandatory for competitive business owners to survive. Yet, traditional academia can’t produce a lecture class that yields critical thinkers, problem-solvers or leaders. 

Those traits and qualities can be developed and grown in individuals but have to come from within. Successful entrepreneurs have these qualities. By successful, I don’t necessarily mean the flamboyant entrepreneurs we see in the media nor the entrepreneurs that judge “Shark Tank.” I mean the ones in our own communities, quietly running their businesses from day to day, working to be exceptional to attract customers in a market where customers are constantly being lured away by the Internet and the dreaded box stores. Most of these people started their businesses from nothing without much money, building them up from scratch using each customer encounter to learn how to make their business better at solving the problems of the marketplace. 

We use exposure to these entrepreneurs as a way to instill these entrepreneurial qualities in the youth, and adults, we host at Fab Lab ICC. In the Entrepreneurial Mindset class, we bring in these local entrepreneurs to tell their stories of how they got started. Many don’t realize their stories have value. Some I have had to coax and beg for up to two years to get to agree to come and talk to class. Their stories have immense value. 

This is all part of developing an Entrepreneurial Community. The Entrepreneurial Community has no traditional boundaries such as city limits or county lines. Entrepreneurial thinking transcends all of that. Among entrepreneurial thinkers sharing ideas no one cares about geography, age or gender. 

We are fortunate to be a part of a Network Kansas E-Community initiative locally known as Montgomery County E-Community. Regardless of the name, we are not limited in any way by our county line. 

Within E-Community, there is an activity called the Youth Entrepreneur Challenge, a business contest (note, not business plan contest, but business contest) for individuals or teams to develop business concepts and enter a contest with substantial cash prizes. (i.e $1,000 for first place.) The 2019 Montgomery County Youth Entrepreneur Challenge competition was recently completed on the third attempt after being snowed and iced out twice. Although all the rescheduling took its toll, we had seven young people, ranging from seventh through twelfth grade competing with six business concepts. 

These young people and their business concepts were amazing. Four of the six have already launched and had sales. The other two could be launched within the next few months. All six could likely be viable with one possibly causing disruption in its industry. Nick Slavin, Coffeyville; Morgan Hugo, Cherryvale; Ryan Piper, Independence; Leann and Renee Trout, Independence; Grace Pinkerton, Caney and Alex Rodriquez, Independence made up this group of young entrepreneurs. A team from Fredonia was not able to reschedule but also had a good business idea. 

On one hand, I’m not a big fan of individuals, whether it be judges, coaches or teachers determining that one business idea is better than another. Only the marketplace can do that. But, in America, we like a contest and we like to name winners. In this Challenge, we named a first, second and third place but they were all winners each taking away some form of prize money or scholarship. It wasn’t just because they competed, it was because each was a solid idea and each represented a lot of work to prepare for the trade show display and 4-minute presentation to a panel of judges. 

The very work they each did in preparing for their businesses and this contest is the work that instills critical thinking, problem-solving and leadership skills, the skills that all customers and employers want.  

Inspiring all youth to start and run a business before they finish high school would pay big dividends in preparing them for life whether as a business owner or a valued employee in a competitive business or organization. We will conduct this Youth Entrepreneur Challenge each year, working to attract more and more youth entrepreneurs from our area. 

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at or Twitter @jimcorrellks. 


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The file attached to the email is full size. 

From left: Renee Trout, Leann Trout, Ryan Piper, Nick Slavin, Grace Pinkerton, Alexandria Rodriquez and Morgan Hugo. 

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