News & Events

High School Students Learn Entrepreneurship

by John Kenyon

About 35 Corridor-area high school students learned about entrepreneurship during a Entrepreneurship Day at the University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business last week, but this was no ordinary career day.

The lessons had particular impact because they were being shared by people only a few years older than those students. These young business owners, most either freshly out of college or still attending, talked about what it takes to get a business off the ground no matter your age.

Zach Voss, a UI graduate whose Voss Distributing in Des Moines is the exclusive distributor of Red Bull energy drink in Iowa, asked the group how old they were. Most said they were juniors in high school.

"Good," he said. "That means you can start your businesses before you graduate. Or, maybe even sell them before you graduate."

That might seem like hubris in another setting, but Mr. Voss was among entrepreneurs who got their starts in high school and college. Megan Wettach started Premier Prom and Bridal Boutique while a senior at Mount Pleasant High School, while Chris Gensicke, a UI freshman, started his graphic design company, Pixel Productions, while in high school.

The message resonated with the students in attendance. Chase Duchak, a junior from Springville High School, said he would like to apply the lessons learned when he takes over his fathers custom cabinet making business.

"It starts with an idea," he said. "All it takes is for somebody to give you a chance."

His classmate, Michelle Kirby, also a Springville junior, said she was amazed that the entrepreneurs started so young. She said she would like to do something with clothing as a business, and knows now she doesn't need to spend a long time putting together a business plan or waiting for the right moment.

"You don't have to be thinking about it forever," she said. "They're so young; all they did is have a dream."

Ben Anderson, president of X-Wires, an Internet provider founded in 2002 while Mr. Anderson was still a student at the UI, talked with the students about keeping a company afloat when the money isn't rolling in.

His company started offering wireless "hotspots" that allowed people to access the Internet, for a price. It has expanded to offer high-speed data lines to corporate clients, as well as other services.

Mr. Anderson said conferences similar to this one were a help as he was working to get X-Wires off the ground.

"You don't know who you're going to talk to," he said of the potential contacts to be made at such gatherings.

Being able to share some of his expertise with the students was great, he said.

"I had the opportunity to share with the students the things we did where there wasn't a lot of cash on hand," he said.

The students impressed him because they had a number of business ideas, he said.

"All it takes is something like this (conference) to help them develop the idea," he said. "It's a good opportunity to talk to people about it."

The students spent the day in sessions both at the Pappajohn Business Building and the new Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory.

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