Guest Columnist

Entrepreneur, businesses give back

January 14, 2013 

Scott Kelly sees a huge opportunity in teaching students to think like entrepreneurs.

Kelly is co-founder of Startup High (startuphigh.com), a camp that has been a launching pad for about 50 teens’ ideas since it began in 2011.

“Once you plant the seed that a kid’s ideas are valuable, they will start to educate themselves. They will go forward and do great things,” said Kelly, a serial entrepreneur and former IBMer and investment banker who also works with students at Duke University’s InCube program.

As part of the Startup High education, teens tour businesses, interview entrepreneurs, perform community service and learn to present a pitch to an organization – topics that adult entrepreneurs need to learn to be successful.

Kelly worked for three years to create Startup High, weaving together contacts in the business and tech communities until he had enough support to move forward.

Kelly took a bootstrap approach, funding the program without outside investors, and publicizing it by speaking at high schools and civic groups. Kelly didn’t draw up a formal business plan but relied on a circle of advisers, colleagues and friends who vetted his ideas and approach.

“It’s always been in the back of my mind to do a program that combines education and technology,” Kelly said. “And once I knew I had all the pieces in place with the business community I developed this plan.

“But honestly? There’s been a lot of trial and error.”

Dozens of area companies and entrepreneur organizations have provided office space and donated time and money, including Triangle Business Law, Bull City Forward, the Hub workspace and Beyu Caffe.

“What we focus on with the kids is: ‘What’s the intersection of your passion, what you can make money with and what you can do to change the world?’ ” Kelly said.

Mital Patel, a lawyer for startups who participated in last summer’s camps, says the area is ideal for Startup High.

“The Triangle definitely has become a hotbed for entrepreneurs” because layoffs and buyouts are pushing talented, motivated workers to start new careers,” said Patel, who owns Triangle Business Law in Raleigh.

“Being an entrepreneur is a skill you can be taught,” Patel said. “It’s something you can teach younger people much more efficiently because they are the most impressionable in their formative years.”

Startup High has inspired LA Davis, 17.

Davis, a Durham Jordan senior, started a dog-walking service, Pet Striders (petstriders.com), after spending a week at the camp. He has about eight clients and earns a couple of hundred dollars a week.

“I wanted a job, but I knew I didn’t want to work for a boss,” Davis said. “I had already volunteered with animals, so it seemed like it made sense.”

Startup High will host half-week and weeklong camps June 10-Aug. 7 in Durham, Raleigh and Hillsborough.

Sheon Wilson is a writer, wardrobe stylist and creator of The N&O’s Refresh Your Style. Follow Sheon on Twitter @sheonwilson.

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