As we inch closer to the Student Think Tank competition on April 27 (see last blog post) the students participating have begun to flesh out their ideas and start their business plans with help from college mentors. Colleen Merrill, executive director of Alta Resources Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and director of the Small Business Development Center at UW Oshkosh, has helped students go from having a simple idea to actually selling products in local stores. We asked her to share with us more about this process and what to expect on April 27.
WF: What are you most excited about with this round of students leading up to April 27? We have spent some time in each of the three high schools (West, North, and Lourdes) and have seen the students come alive with ideas! Having them not only understand the process of validating a business idea, but more importantly, believe they can, excites me the most. We are at a 24 year low of young entrepreneurs owning a small business. By providing resources, mentors, access to seed funding, and a community that fosters the entrepreneurial ecosystem – we can change our region and have a major impact on our economy. That is the reason we created the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Alta Resources Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. In only three short years we have launched over 25 businesses, expanded to high school, and will be teaching a seed accelerator in Fond du Lac for the Fox Valley region.
WF: How do you prepare the kids for such a professional presentation that they’ve maybe never done before? We gave them all the tools they need to present the key content items the judges will be looking for as well as resources on the internet to watch successful 90 second presentations. During our kick off meetings at each high school, we brought in two college teams that presented their 90 second pitch and answered any questions the students had. At this point, a faculty champion at each school will be working with the students to prepare for their contest.
WF: How does this program affect our community as a whole as far as expanding the minds of our high school students? From my experience running the UWO program, this process completely empowers and transforms individuals. Our goal is to use the 90 second pitch contest as a stepping stone, an entry point, which allows students to gain confidence. The 10 week accelerator program is where their lives change. They learn interview skills, personality types so they are able to communicate clearly with different types of people, refined presentation skills, critical thinking and the ability to feel comfortable making mistakes—all while learning how to validate their idea. By engaging students in high school, they are ready to explore at a deeper level once they graduate. Our mission is to engage these students, help them develop a sound business strategy, and provide the resources so they build and grow their business in North East Wisconsin. This ecosystem is critical to the growth of the region and will certainly take a village to raise.
Student Think Tank will take place on April 27, is free and open to the public. We anticipate a large turnout, so we’re encouraging everyone to reserve their seats by calling 920-426-3993 or going online to http://oshkoshareacf.org/event_detail.cfm?EventID=50.
*Watch the Women’s Fund website, Women.OshkoshAreaCF.Org, for more information on the presentations that will take place on May 19 with Lori Greiner.