County teens attend Youth Entrepreneurial Day

May 04, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

Dreams, supported with a good education and a strong self-image, are what fledgling business owners need to succeed, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, told 60 young entrepreneurs yesterday.

Three 18-year-old Westminster High School students, chosen to attend the Maryland Youth Entrepreneurial Day sponsored by the state Department of Economic and Employment Development, have started down that path.

Thomas Gordon III, an employee in his father's antique shop for about nine years, has turned his love of comic books into a small business and intends to start a company of his own when he finishes college.

Chris DeGasperi, one of last year's 10 statewide outstanding young entrepreneurs, has turned mowing lawns for friends and neighbors into a full-time business.

And Timothy Meerschaert, president of Westminster High's Future Business Leaders of America chapter, has dreams of running his own sports arena.

"They are very serious about school and future businesses," said Margaret Payne, Westminster High's marketing teacher, who sponsored the three students. "I wish all the students had this opportunity in all of the schools."

During Maryland Youth Entrepreneurial Day, which DEED has sponsored for five years, students from across the state visited companies in the college's incubator program and heard about support available for people starting new businesses.

UMBC's incubator provides low-cost space, services and advice for fledgling companies.

"Why are we paying all this attention to new enterprises?" Bernard L. Berkowitz, senior adviser to the incubator program, asked. "Because studies have shown that the greatest majority of net new employee growth occurs in small businesses.

"Localities that are not generating new enterprises are probably not going to be so successful."

"It's been really good," said Thomas about the program, "and I'm really happy to be around other people with common interests."

Programs such as this one, combined with classroom and working experience in his father's shop, Silver Ridge Antiques, help give him a three-dimensional picture of the business world, he said.

"It all works together," said Thomas, whose nearly 8,000-book collection was featured in Kiplinger magazine last year. He said he primarily trades rather than sells his comics and collectibles because of the expense involved. In fact, the business will probably fall to the wayside as he pursues a degree in marketing at a college in Delaware.

"I collect comics because I enjoy it," said Thomas, who is president of Westminster High's Distributive Education Clubs of America. "I've seen a lot of people in my dad's business who get involved in the money side of things and lose the interest they once had. A lot of kids are collecting now for 'what's it worth?' rather than 'what is it,' and I think that's sad."

For Chris, business has more than doubled in the past year.

"It seems like every day I've got someone new calling me to do something for them," he said. "They all want it done right away, so I make my day a little longer to fit it in."

The 18-year-old senior attends a half-day of classes, leaving at 11:30 a.m. to tend his business, which earns him another three high school credits toward graduation. After working on lawns until dark, he returns home to clean his equipment, tend the animals he owns as 4-H projects and do the bookkeeping for his business.

"I get to my homework at about 11 p.m.," Chris said. "Then my day starts at 6 a.m. the next morning."

But he said he's still looking toward new ventures, such as horse-drawn carriage rides on weekends for tourists and for events like weddings. But that dream will have to wait until he's at least 25, Chris said.

"I've got all the equipment I need," he said, noting that he already owns an eight-passenger wagonette and two of his family's three horses are trained to pull it. "But I can't get the insurance until I'm 25."

A running back for Westminster High's football team, Chris said he will continue to play while pursuing an education degree at Frostburg State College. The business will carry on with his brother and some hired help, he said.

"My dad [Chuck DeGasperi] needs some help doing the things I used to do around the shop," Chris said. His father's business is Interstate Batteries of Baltimore. "So, the guy will work half a day for my dad and for me the other half."

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