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)

"First, schools can help make the schedule a bit more flexible for those students with entrepreneurial pursuits as long as those students are responsible and get their class work done," he said. "Second, since school schedules and calendars are rather rigid by design, schools can look for opportunities to provide, support or advertise entrepreneurial programs after school or on the weekends.

"Finally, schools can help students develop the work ethic, perseverance, accountability, responsibility and respect for others that is required to be a successful entrepreneur," he said.

"Catholic High has done all of that without being pushed. While CHS will not compromise its values or the quality of the education it offers in a faith-based environment, school administrators and teachers listened when approached by a young man with a dream and plan to execute it. They put it on Joshua to devise a workable plan with his teachers for keeping up with the work. His teachers, led by Steve Straessle, the principal, were willing to be flexible as long as Joshua held up his end of the bargain."

Straessle said Catholic High has made similar accommodations in the past where learning was the focal point, and would do so again under the right circumstances.

"Josh’s circumstances were unique, and coupled with his demonstrated tenacity, perseverance, and intellect, it was an easy yes," he said. "Would we do this for others? Similarly equipped – yes."

High school students who want to test the entrepreneurial waters need start from a strong foundation, he stressed.

"A strong high school curriculum is intrinsic to success in any endeavor. Simply put, a teenager must walk before he can run," Straessle said. "We do not recommend any student forgoing the fundamentals: becoming good readers, good writers, good communicators, understanding math and science principles and having a healthy respect for history. 

"But, with students who have already demonstrated some mastery of those concepts, it is a natural evolution to allow for some growth outside of the confines of a high school building. This does not degrade or replace the high school experience, it enhances the high school experience," Straessle said. "For example, students interested in photography should pursue that field, but not at the expense of learning the fundamentals. Otherwise, there is little likelihood that this passion could be anything more than that. 

"Kids need to learn to speak well, to write well, to read well, to master principles of science and math so they can take that passion and do something with it. It's one thing to have all the talent in the world. It's another to make good use of that talent. That's where the fundamentals come in."

When the Moodys decided this past spring to pursue Josh's idea for a real life, combat gaming app, David used his connections in the northwest Arkansas startup community to introduce his son to Joe Saumweber and Michael Paladino of Bentonville digital media startup RevUnit. (Paladino is a 1997 Catholic High graduate.) He was seeking feedback on Josh's idea and respected their work at the Innovate Arkansas client firm.

Saumweber said they took the meeting with Josh as a courtesy to his dad, but came away both impressed and surprised with Josh and his idea. Both family men in their 30s, neither Saumweber nor Paladino expected to come out of the meeting with Josh ready to launch the Overwatch startup and then be accepted that summer into the ARK.

"Josh, in many ways, represents a new generation of technology leadership," Saumweber said. "We were blown away that a 17-year-old kid was hanging with us on conversations around software development and the hardware limitations of current mobile devices. He had put a lot of thought into the value he wanted to bring to users, and it was evident that he would be a capable partner. We walked away from that first conversation excited about Overwatch and scared to death that we would be irrelevant in 10 years as Josh and more like him grow into their careers."



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