Education

Entrepreneurship Academy Gets High Marks

HERMITAGE, Pa. – Earl F. Gohl walked into the Entrepreneurship Academy to ask questions of a class of 20 young people Tuesday afternoon. He didn’t have to pry the answers out.

“In that room, you clearly have a whole slew of next-generation entrepreneurs,” says Gohl, co-chairman of the federal Appalachian Regional Commission. “You have to be impressed with the energy and leadership that brought this project together and the energy in the room.”

The students – all seniors from seven high schools in Mercer County — have big ideas they would like to put into action. And they were more than eager to share their ideas with Gohl.

These students are enrolled in the Entrepreneurship Academy, a first-year program designed to encourage and nurture young people’s entrepreneurial spirit. The classes are held at the Training and Workforce Development Center at LindenPointe, a business and technology park off state Route 18.

The Appalachian Regional Commission contributed $200,000 toward construction of the building, along with another $600,000 secured from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. Gohl’s visit to the school is part of a two-day trip to the region; today’s he’ll tour Youngstown State University’s Center for Innovation in Additive Manufacturing.

The Appalachian Regional Commission covers 420 counties in 13 states that stretch from Mississippi to New York, Gohl said.

“What we’ve found throughout Appalachia is the way to grow communities is with the assets that we have,” he said. “Entrepreneurs really know how to do that, and that’s what the future of Appalachia is: to have the next generation of active, strong entrepreneurs.”

The academy is divided into six teams, each assigned to develop a business. Students have written business plans for software apps, Web services, technology for outdoor sportsmen, and 3-D printing services.

Grayden Sabol and his team, for example, have established Footmark Tracking, a company that installs a small tracking beeper in arrows used for hunting and target shooting. “It tracks the arrow so the hunter won’t lose it,” he said.

Among the biggest challenges was navigating all of the financial and paperwork associated with running a business, he noted.

Sabol was invited to participate along with 20 other students in the Google Pitch competition at Google’s offices in Pittsburgh. Competitors had two minutes to explain and pitch their ideas before a panel. “It was very intense,” he related.

The effort paid off and Sabol finished in first place. “I was very surprised,” he said.

Another student, Levi Roberts, is working to launch The Next Step, a website that links high school students to colleges, trade schools or a branch of the military specific to their interests.

“It would be ready if we had the $5,000 to get it started,” he said. “We’re still developing this business and idea.”

What he likes best about the program is the intellectual and creative freedom allowed to these students so they can think. “Do it how you like to – that’s what I love about it,” Roberts said.

The class also visited area manufacturers and businesses, such as the Youngstown Business Incubator, America Makes, and several incubators and business startups in Pittsburgh.

Kim Zippie, superintendent of Commodore Perry School District, said the idea for the academy originated with educators working together to figure out what it would take to stem the “brain drain” in this part of the country.

Entrepreneurship was the answer. “We just started to dream about it,” she said, “and wanted to find a way to make it a reality.”

The idea was proposed to the city of Hermitage, where assistant city manager Gary Gulla was helpful in identifying potential funding sources for the program, including one from the EDA. “We wrote the grant, submitted it, and we got it,” Gulla said, “which was an absolute shock.”

Gohl says programs such as these give the government a great return on its investment. “It’s a great investment in resources to take public dollars, whether they be federal or local, and do projects like this,” he stated. “It really changes the trajectory of kids. It awakens talents that they probably didn’t know they had and gives them an opportunity to grow at an accelerated rate.”

“It’s not just for the smartest kids,” Gohl elaborated. “It’s for ambitious kids who have big ideas.”

Pictured: Earl F. Gohl addresses students and teachers at Mercer County’s Entrepreneurship Academy.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.