Inspired teen entrepreneurs finding more support in local high schools: What they’re learning

More area schools are making a priority of nourishing budding teen entrepreneurs through business start-up classes.

It’s a new focus coinciding in recent months with a local high school student and two recent Miami University graduates appearing on TV’s popular “Shark Tank” show.

One of the show’s investors agreed in the fall to finance $150,000 for a Fenwick High School teen’s paint-based product after a sales presentation by the student and his father.

And earlier this year two Miami business grads landed $500,000 from their appearance on the show – pitching their post-tattoo skin cream – from businessman and NBA team owner Mark Cuban.

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But away from that bright national TV stage are also some new local high school efforts giving area teens business learning opportunities.

Talawanda High School graduate Emily Mullen had an opportunity to start exploring her now successful local business during her senior year in 2017 thanks to a Butler Tech satellite program in her high school.

The now 22-year-old owner of Mullen Dairy & Creamery credits her early exposure as a Butler Tech student in the school’s agriculture program with igniting her passion to later create her own business. The business is based out of her family’s farm in Butler County’s Okeana community.

“I was a very cautious and shy student … but the Butler Tech teachers believed in me before I believed in myself,” said Mullen.

Her company sells organic, specialty milk – cookies and cream, coconut, chocolate, strawberry, root beer and other flavors – as well as cow-milk soap and bee-wax chapstick. Mullen sells her products through area retailers.

“I’m doing better than I expected. I’m supporting myself as well as paying the bills,” she said.

At Lakota’s two high schools, dozens of students are taking advantage of the school system’s new “INCubatoredu” program training teens in entrepreneurism.

“We want our students to graduate realizing the potential career paths wrapped up in an entrepreneurial mindset,” said Lakota’s Executive Director of Curriculum & Instruction Keith Koehne.

“In our first year offering the program, we have especially enjoyed watching students develop their ideas and thrive under the guidance of our business partners. Every step of the way, they are there to provide their group with insights based on their own entrepreneurial experiences,” said Koehne.

The learning includes two, year-long introductory courses called “Essentials” and “Application and Design.” With teacher-led instruction and visiting experts, both courses address business-minded concepts like finance, marketing, human resources, operations and leadership, said Lakota officials.

Lakota East High School junior Mia Hilkowitz is one of those students and she’s grateful for the chance to tap into her passion for starting a business.

“It’s amazing and we’ve been learning a lot,” said Hilkowitz.

She is one of the 100 students – including 50 at Lakota West High School – enrolled in the INCubatoredu program, which involves direct consulting assistance from some area businesses.

A Shark Tank show fan – “I’ve always watched the show with my family” – she said “I’m really into business.”

“What I really like about it is having all those risks. It’s pretty scary being an entrepreneur … but what I really like about the (INCubator) classes is I get to work with other people in my group.”

She and her classmates are developing a safety app called “Never Walk Alone,” which is being designed for college students walking through and around campuses. The app is in initial development and would provide near-real-time local police and security alerts – via maps - to keep users safe by also offering a safer route.

Coming up is Lakota’s version of Shark Tank called “Pitch Night” and Hilkowitz is eager to participate.

“It’s pretty fun,” she said.

Mullen’s advice for all the growing ranks of local young entrepreneurs is to take advantage of their youth.

“Use your age as an attention grabber. You have a greater impact as a young person in our current society than an older person will ever be able to grab.”

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