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First Governor's School for Entrepreneurs helps students explore their business passion

Montazia Brown knows a great deal more about startups after spending three weeks at the Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs hosted by Georgetown College.
“It really changed my entire vision,” said the rising senior at Lafayette High School. “You can never under-think anything because there are so many components to starting and running a business. And you can’t do it by yourself. You need a team of people to help, and you have to have a passion.”

The 2013 GSE participants from Fayette County Public Schools were Montazia Brown (left), Ariel Norvell, Esther Putman, Paul Johnson and Ethan Petraitis. (Photo from FCPS)

The 2013 GSE participants from Fayette County Public Schools are, from left, Montazia Brown, Ariel Norvell, Esther Putman, Paul Johnson and Ethan Petraitis. (Photo from FCPS)

Tazia and four others from Fayette County Public Schools – Ethan Petraitis of Henry Clay High School, Paul Johnson of Paul Laurence Dunbar High and Lafayette’s Ariel Norvell and Esther Putman – were among the inaugural class of 50 exploring their business passion during the June 9-29 free, residential program.

Divided into a dozen groups, the young entrepreneurs developed innovative ideas with an eye toward bringing their products to market. Tazia’s group, for instance, designed an app called Permit Quest to help teens prepare for driving. Meanwhile, Ariel’s team worked on TriPhonia, a buyback service for electronics. GSE mixed the teams by school and placed roommates in different groups so the teens had maximum exposure to fellow students from across the state.
“After meeting people I didn’t know, we had to work toward a common goal and be creative together,” Ariel said. “We all had our individual aspects to contribute to the group.”
Delving into their business plans, the students learned about investment capital, production, sales and long-range strategies while receiving banking advice from area entrepreneurs, attorneys and other successful professionals, including pizza boss John Schnatter of Papa John’s. The students also toured cutting-edge companies, business accelerators and incubators. Several cited an attractive vibe at TiER 1 Performance Solutions in Covington, which has a relaxed, creative workspace.
“When you’re starting out in a new business, you’re not alone. There are people out there trying to find out the same answers, so we’re trying to expose them to the entrepreneurial community,” said Laurie C. Daugherty, executive director of GSE. “This is a creative time in their life, and they have amazing ideas. Our program is about teaching them creative-thinking skills and business models so they understand some of those first crucial steps, such as identifying who your customer is and what your brand is going to be.”
Daugherty hopes the first class of teen entrepreneurs gained confidence in their abilities and always remembers that persistence and resilience are crucial ingredients. GSE, which was open to rising 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders, plans to connect the students with mentors and other resources in their respective communities if they want to pursue their business plans this fall.
Esther, whose team proposed a device for cars that would boost cellphone signals in rural areas, looks forward to the next stage. “We had to go from blueprints to business in three weeks,” she said of the summer experience. “Every time we sat down as a team and talked, we’d pivot and find something we needed to change. The more we worked on it, the more potential we saw. I think we can make something real.”
John Wehrle, chief financial officer for the Kentucky Science and Technology Corp., GSE’s sponsor, said critical thinking and hard work cannot be underestimated when trying to launch a startup.
“The skill set is so much different for entrepreneurs. We wanted to tap into young people’s creativity and get them interested in the whole process,” he said, adding, “It’s a great opportunity for them to learn that failure is not a problem – it’s a signal to pivot, not stop.”
For more information on GSE, click here.

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