Young CEOs: Entrepreneurship in Schools Possible

Introducing entrepreneurship into the standard high school curriculum is possible and ultimately inevitable, according to participants in Thursday night's young CEO panel discussion hosted by the Arkansas Venture Center at the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The panel included Little Rock Christian Academy junior Natali Hall, who created the online literary forum; David Allan and Sreesh Reddy, both seniors at Hendrix College and co-founders of Acorn Hours, a startup that tracks student community service hours; and Josh Moody, a senior at Little Rock's Catholic High School and co-founder and CEO of Overwatch, a combat gaming app.

Moderated by Roby Brock of Talk Business, the panel discussion represented the fourth night of Global Entrepreneurship Week in central Arkansas. The week opened with a women's founders panel on Monday; a demostration of the planned maker space at the Argenta Innovation Center was held on Tuesday; and a lean canvas workshop was held Wednesday night at South on Main.

A free founders party at 6 p.m. Friday from the Rev Room in the River Market will cap the week's events.

The young founders who spoke on Thursday believe the recent momentum for youth entrepreneurship will only increase. In addition to the work of the panelists, Little Rock's Noble Impact is teaching a course at eStem High School about public service through entrepreneurship and even took a team of eStem students to the recent Startup Weekend Northwest Arkansas.

There, the students created Passion Pull, a startup that aims to help students identify and pursue their passions.

Plus, the Arkansas Economic Acceleration Foundation annually hosts the Youth Entrepreneurship Showcase, business-plan competitions for students in grades 5-8 and 9-12, and Sparkible offers after-school entrepreneurship programs for high school students. 

Moody took Overwatch to the ARK Challenge accelerator in Fayetteville that ran over the summer and into the fall, and his startup was named one of three winners. He worked a deal with Catholic High to begin his senior year remotely. In a sense, Moody introduced entrepreneurship into the Catholic High cirriculum, if on a limited scale, and the school is open to future arrangements with other students.

"In the future, there's definitely an opportunity to incorporate it into a high-school cirriculum," Moody said. "If there's an interest, I don't see any downside to an entrepreneurship elective." 

Allan, who with Reddy led Acorn Hours (formerly known as Simple Service) to a win at Startup Weekend Little Rock in April, stressed that entrepreneurship can't be taught in the same way as other subjects.

"You can't teach entrepreneurship like you teach physics," he said. "You can't teach it from a book. You have to create an environment where ideas can come forth."

Allan said entrepreneurship students would need access to mentors and the right kind of space and technology. 

Allan and Reddy have developed their product, which offers a way for students and schools to track and verify community service hours, and are negotiating with schools in Arkansas to test it. From there, they want to offer the product to corporations.

Both plan to graduate in the spring, Allan with a philosophy degree and Reddy with a biochemistry degree, and continue to grow the company.

Hall is testing a way to monetize her site, currently tailored to Harry Potter fans. She wants to "incentivize users" to pay for services through games. Her plans after high school include college where she wants to pursue screenwriting and cinematography, but Hall said she'd be willing to delay her freshman year if entrepreneurship got in the way.

Moody also is prepared to delay his entry into college if necessary. Once there, he plans to study business and design. Meanwhile, the Overwatch product is set to launch in stores by early next year and continues to take up much of his time. Moody called high-school entrepreneurship a learning process.

"Having an entire day to just work on your startup every week is very difficult," he said. "You really do have to think out your week before it starts and really plan out your day. But this is possible to do while you're in school. Just don't be afraid of failing, because that's just a learning experience."