May 10, 2019
Wabash Inspires Young Entrepreneurs
By Cameron Potts, Vice President of Public Relations, Deluxe
I read a study a while back that said millennials will be more likely to work for themselves than anyone else. They are a highly entrepreneurial group.
In our high schools around the country, groups like DECA and others are helping the next generation figure out ways to foster their entrepreneurial spirit, spurning new, potential small business owners into our economic futures. At Wabash High School, teacher Tyler Olson is encouraging the next generation right now.
Back in 2012, funds were cut that supported a business program at the high school. Led by groups like Grow Wabash County and INGUARD, a national insurance agency located in Wabash, INCubador.edu was created for students to pursue their small business dreams.
As Olson described, at the beginning of the 2018 school year, 16 student-entrepreneurs formed four teams that each set out to start their own business. Working through business problems, like a competitive analysis, business plan, customer segmentation and more, the students created viable, workable businesses.
Part of a statewide and national effort, INCubador.edu is a competition-based program, where students pitch their ideas locally to a panel of business leaders for the chance to receive up to $500 to test their products or ideas. From there, the winning businesses go on to regional and statewide contests.
The businesses themselves have to be actual, viable businesses that the students are required to put into action. Working with business leaders in town like Parker Beauchamp, CEO of INGUARD, the students receive practical, real business advice that isn’t sugar-coated for their ages.
“The effort from the students, along with guidance from a team of business leaders in Wabash County led to a dynamic classroom setting,” Olson said. “These students learned practical, real-world lessons by interviewing potential customers to determine the correct target market, working with a local accountant to create financial models and local leaders who supported them with time and talent.”
Christine Flohr, executive director of Visit Wabash County credits the burst of entrepreneurial spirit to Wabash winning the first season of Small Business Revolution in 2016. Since that point, she explained, there has been a desire locally to continue to push the envelope when it comes to supporting and building small businesses. The leadership of Superintendent Jason Callahan has also been a catalyst to bring innovative, real-world lessons directly into the classroom.
From our first visit to Wabash our team could tell there was something different about the leadership in this community. Understated, they had a plan. They knew they wanted their downtown community to be more connected, for the businesses to share more about their ups and downs, how they are managing and what they could do better. Their level of coordination and desire for action is the reason that other towns in our contest call Flohr to ask how they can win, or even how they can thrive even if they don’t win. As Flohr always tells them, being part of Small Business Revolution is more than just a contest, it is about trying to improve the culture of a town.
Olson explained that one of the student businesses, called Shop Fresh, wanted to build a diffuser for refrigerators, but based on customer feedback, changed their design. Instead, they looked at what they could put into a fridge to keep produce fresh. The students came up with the idea of packaging porous rocks in small pouches to extend the life of fresh produce. Student Services started with an idea to help elderly in Wabash with small jobs around their homes. They found a greater need to help people of all ages in town.
“Beyond the basic business concepts, these young entrepreneurs learned that Wabash is willing to support them in any way we can. They learned they can start and grow a business right here in Wabash,” Olson said.
On April 16, in front of a panel of judges, these two student groups were awarded prizes for their amazing work. Representing Shop Fresh is Olivia Lindsay, Shelby David, Evelynn Gray, and Lucia Pena. The team that worked on Student Services is Isabel France, Alex Driscoll, James Booth, and Kallen Kelsheimer.
The work that Deluxe and the Small Business Revolution continues to do across the country is inspiring and activating. Since only one small town wins each year, the other communities have to continue their own revolution with the principles we have shared with them. It is amazing to watch business leaders like Stephanie Gardner in Durant, Oklahoma be named Main Street leader of the year for her state. Or Mat Faulkner in Searcy, Arkansas being named Person of the Year for his town because of his efforts to bring Small Business Revolution to town.
Most of all, hearing the work Olson and his students are doing, their passion for becoming small business owners and leaders and understand that even a small spark was started when we first set foot in Wabash is amazing to behold.