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High school entrepreneurs reach for the stars with new businesses

Lakewood St. Edward sophomore Nathan Grose of Dabble
Lakewood St. Edward sophomore Nathan Grose of Dabble - Bob Perkoski
Nate Grose has yet to don the cap and gown, but the junior at St. Edward High School in Lakewood has made some decisions about his future. He wants to forge his own career path when he enters the work force and run his own business.

“When I was in seventh and eighth grade, my (relatives) would always talk about how bad corporate life was,” says Grose. “That instilled in me the idea that you want to be in charge of your own life. You get more out of (being your own boss). You’re doing what you want to do and that makes you happy.”

While involved with the Ken Layden Entrepreneurship Program at St. Edward, Grose and friend Adam Jones came up with the idea for Dabble, a social news network that connects members with news about their various interests. Grose believes Dabble, which he hopes to have up and running by next fall, will meet needs that Facebook and Twitter weren’t designed to service.

“Facebook and Twitter are meant to report on your social life, show people pictures of what you’re doing today and tell them what’s on your mind,” Grose says. “Our social news network will offer news you’re actually interested in and interaction with friends who actually care about those things too.”

Grose is part of a growing number of Ohio high school students who are taking an interest in building their own businesses through programs like The Ken Layden Foundation, the Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) and the Battelle Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Innovation Networks.

“We’re always pleasantly surprised at their ability to blow us away,” says David Burns, director of the Battelle STEM Innovation Networks, of the high school participants. “The ability to think differently and holistically is innate in them. Throughout our networks, kids are getting patents and are solving problems for businesses. It’s kind of mind blowing.”

The STEM network was created in 2007 as a network of STEM hubs, schools and programs to infuse STEM literacy and knowledge throughout the state. Currently there are eight STEM training centers and 12 additional schools offering STEM programs throughout Ohio serving more than 17,000 students. The STEM programs allow students to collaborate with leaders in education and business for real world experiences.

“Our goal is to prepare kids for leadership positions in the STEM fields for the 21st century,” adds Jeff McClellan, the head of school for the MC2STEM High School in Cleveland. “We strongly believe in order to prepare students for the future, we need to let them know what those fields look like. There’s a large emphasis on getting students into that environment.”

Frosh sees Apathy in his future

Gabe Loughney is a big believer in the STEM program. The freshman is taking the lessons he’s learning in the National Inventors Hall of Fame High School in Akron and applying them to his start-up business, Apathy T-Shirts.

“I quickly realized this school is not at all a typical experience,” Loughney says. “I feel better about going to school because I have something I’m working towards. There aren’t many people (my age) who can say that.”

Loughney and his friends went into the t-shirt business with a definite target market in mind. An avid street rider, he wanted to market his shirts to the BMX and skateboarding crowd. Lacking the capital to make thousands of t-shirts, Loughney and his friends printed out hundreds of stickers with the Apathy logo on it and handed them out at skateboard parks to generate interest.

Alison White, the director of the Ohio STEM Learning Network’s Akron Hub, says taking the soft launch approach was the perfect way for Loughney to get started. “He is generating a word of mouth buzz about this company,” White says. “(Apathy) is getting their foot in the door with people. They’re getting to know their key audience and expanding it from there. Gabe came to this school because he felt like he’d be supported. He can see how things are a lot more connected at this school than at a traditional school where they learn, go home and it’s not connected to the real world.’’

Loughney says the individual nature of BMX has helped him in launching his own company. “BMX is something you do all on your own. Starting a company is the same way,” he says. “We don’t have anyone telling us what to do. It’s all on us. We come up with all the ideas. That’s what I really like about it.”

A senior with his head in the clouds

At an age when most teenagers are mowing lawns, babysitting or working drive-through windows, Jordan Pack aimed for the sky in order to make money. At 13, Pack designed an online information website for the Port Columbus International Airport and earned revenue from the advertising on the site. Now a senior at Gahanna Lincoln High School in Columbus, Pack runs Sunder Creative, a website consulting firm.

“I realized I could help other businesses increase their digital presence online,” says Pack, who has helped 15 different clients. “A lot of people don’t have the time or the skills necessary to go out and build a website. You can take a class or read a book on website design but a lot of it is stuff you have to learn yourself. You can say, ‘Hey I can do this,’ and create things people haven’t thought of before. If you don’t have that background, you don’t know what the limits or possibilities are.”

While he is mostly self-taught when it comes to website design, Pack has learned a lot about the world of business from his school’s DECA program. Pack took first place in a DECA state competition in Columbus earlier this year with his business plan for leasing aircraft for Braeburn Aviation. “It’s basically like you would lease a car. I play the role of leaser of aircraft to different airlines,” Pack says. “You’re starting to see that now with larger companies. What I focused on was on doing that on a much smaller scale.”

“Jordan is an amazing young man,” says Christopher “Kit” Lynch, the director of the Gahanna DECA program. “He has a very advanced business mind for someone his age. The sky is the limit for this kid.”

With the training that STEM, DECA and other entrepreneurial programs are providing high school students, the sky is also the limit for many of the state’s brightest minds.

“More entrepreneurship is needed in America,” Grose says. “We are dreamers and we have the ambition to do what others aren’t willing to do.”

Photos Bob Perkoski except where noted
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