Startup Ecosystem Seeping Into High School Ranks

by Mark Carter  on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013 11:20 am  

Josh Moody (center), a senior at Catholic High, with Overwatch team members Joe Saumweber and Michael Paladino (at left), thanks the crowd at the 2013 ARK Challenge Demo Day after Overwatch was named one of three winners. (Photo by Beth Hall)

Startups are starting to be big business in Arkansas, and the kids are starting to notice. Chad Williamson of Noble Impact will lead a contingent of Little Rock high school students to Startup Weekend in Fayetteville Friday to compete along side their adult counterparts.

Noble Impact, which partners with the Clinton School of Public Service, teaches high school students how to engage public service through entrepreneurship, and co-founder Williamson teaches a Noble Impact course at eStem High School, the public charter school in downtown Little Rock.

Indeed, the entrepreneurial momentum that's enveloped the state over the last five years or so is seeping into the high school ranks. Noble Impact, started last year, works with high schools to promote entrepreneurship and the Arkansas Economic Acceleration Foundation's Youth Entrepreneur Showcase offers annual business plan competitions for students in grades 5-8 and 9-12.

Earlier this fall, one of three winning teams at the nationally renowned ARK Challenge startup accelerator in Fayetteville was led by a 17-year-old senior at Little Rock's Catholic High School. Josh Moody's Overwatch team won $150,000 — and the eyes of national investors — to further develop its combat gaming app.

Williamson sees more opportunity for students to embrace entrepreneurship than there ever has been.

"In my opinion, the momentum around entrepreneurship in high school is in direct relation to giving students different opportunities and avenues to express their ideas, creativity and talents," he said. "In essence, we want to introduce real world opportunities and then act as facilitators and mentors in the process from pitching to a press release."

Of course, kids are much more sophisticated these days and ready at an earlier age to tackle some of the challenges inherit in entrepreneurship. Moody, for example, was turning PlayStation portables into TV remotes at age 13. He firmly believes anyone his age can follow the path he's taken.

"Anyone given the resources and support I was given, as long as they are willing to do whatever it takes, is capable of doing exactly what I have done," he said. "In fact, I hope to see increased interest in programs like the ARK from students my age. If I could do it, someone else can as well."

Moody came by his entrepreneurial streak naturally. His father, David Moody, is a former startup executive and a startup consultant involved in the establishment of the Arkansas Venture Center, an accelerator for Little Rock, and Sparkible, a program that aims to introduce high school kids to the entrepreneurial basics.

David believes others can follow the model established this fall by Catholic High, which allowed Josh to start his senior year remotely while finishing up at the ARK.

"What Joshua has accomplished so far can certainly be emulated with the right combination of resources, contacts, flexibility and personal attributes of a strong work ethic, willingness to learn on your own, positive attitude and an understanding that failure as just another way to learn how not to do something," David said. "Fail fast on the cheap, and adjust. Most school schedules are not designed to accommodate the out-of-class learning required by young entrepreneurs and most schools don’t have the curriculum or personnel to teach the nuts of bolts of how to create a startup company or develop products."

He believes there are some specific things schools can do to support their students who engage in entrepreneurial activity.



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