Entrepreneurs in training

High school students learn at UM to present, and critique, ideas for new business ventures.

July 30, 2005|By Rhasheema A. Sweeting | Rhasheema A. Sweeting,SUN STAFF

With only the tousled hair and wrinkled jeans giving away his age, Ryan Miceli clicked through a PowerPoint presentation of his plan for an energy conservation business, tossing around vocabulary such as "revenues" and "profit margins" with the ease of an experienced businessman.

At age 17, Miceli is no CEO, although he has the drive and desire of one.

He was one of 17 high school students who for the past three weeks participated in the Hinman's Campus Entrepreneurship Opportunities Program at the University of Maryland, College Park, a program to teach and encourage young business hopefuls to start their own businesses.

While many of their peers were at home or visiting the mall, this group of students spent the days in rigorous, condensed college-level business classes. Outside the classroom, they worked in teams to develop plans for simulated businesses that had to include a marketing strategy, financial projections and an assessment of competitors.

The five teams created PowerPoint presentations to display their work at the close of the program yesterday.

This was the first time that the program, which was started in 1999 for college undergraduates, was opened to high school students. Some came from nearby, but Miceli came from Long Island, N.Y., and Colleen Erner, 17, came from Charleston, S.C.

"We noticed a gravitation toward students younger and younger applying for the program," said James Green, associate director of the program.

Entrepreneurship among young people has been around for years with groups like Junior Achievement, but it has proliferated with the popularity of reality television shows such as Donald Trump's The Apprentice and Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson's The Rebel Billionaire.

The teenagers of today are part of a generation that has grown up with the Internet and they're not afraid to use it. The Internet makes the research, planning and communicating process much easier.

The entrepreneurship program gave the teenagers a chance to get their hands dirty and have their ideas critiqued in a collegiate setting. On the last day of the program, local officials and university deans were present to shake hands and award certificates to the students.

Chris Foster, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, who attended the event on behalf of the state, said he was surprised by the quality of the presentations.

"I didn't see anything insane today," said Foster, who considers himself overly critical. Foster said that there is $100 billion of startup money available for viable business ventures, including those created by young entrepreneurs. "Everything presented today could potentially work," he said.

Miceli and his five-person team, called Utiliscan, presented their plan to monitor energy consumption wirelessly through a home computer. Group member Spenser Peterson, 17, from Olney, said working on the Utiliscan venture and completing the program gave him a clearer understanding of the entrepreneurial process.

"If I come up with a really good idea I know what to do with it," Peterson said.

Another group presented a line of athletic clothing embedded with weights for athletes and health-conscious individuals.

Andrew Delapenha, 17, from Ashton, who was in the athletic clothing group, has participated in entrepreneurial activities since his pre-teens. But this is the first program that allowed him to develop his own ideas.

"It's raised me to a higher level of thinking," Delapenha said. He plans to attend either the Johns Hopkins University or the University of Maryland to study business and medicine so he can eventually open a private practice.

The other business proposals were for a car design company specializing in transforming SUVs into convertibles; a hip-hop music and art retail store; and a subscription-based online forum for student athletes and college coaches.

Erner, the South Carolina teen, was part of the athlete Web site group. She said the idea came from group members' own experiences as student athletes. She wants to run her own real estate business after graduating from college.

Because the group spent long, grueling days and nights working so closely together for three weeks, they bonded quickly and were easily spurred on by their similar interests, Erner said. "Earlier I had to wear sunglasses to hide my tears because I'm going to miss them," Erner said. "It's like we just clicked."

Neill Kinter, 17, of Sykesville, who led the energy conservation group, was motivated to pursue other business ventures.

"This has shown me how much I want to do and how much better I can be," Kinter said. "I really want to push for that."

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