‘Entrepreneurs Change the World’ program targets the next generation of founders
Some of the most famous startups in the world were created by students in college or even younger. So why are most networking and education programs geared toward older founders and entrepreneurs? That’s the problem Cincinnati startup hub Cintrifuse is setting out to fix this summer with Entrepreneurs Change the World, a virtual program for high school and college students that runs through Aug. 7. With more than 10 hours of programming a week, students will learn from a diverse mix of Cincinnati’s top tech and entrepreneurial leaders and collaborate with other students from across the region.
“We’re trying to build a world-class innovation economy here in Cincinnati,” said Cintrifuse CEO Pete Blackshaw. “We set the goal of being a top startup hub in the Midwest, and we’ve concluded that we really need to start a lot earlier and build a strategy to get tech entrepreneurs early on. We created this program, which coincides with this pivot period where everyone is staying at home. A lot of young people have had their great summer plans delayed and there’s a lot of disappointment, so we’re trying to turn this into a big opportunity.”
Because of 2020’s necessary embracing of a virtual environment, Blackshaw said there will be opportunities for “lots of creative things” over the course of the program. In addition to the typical webinars and learning sessions, the six-week program will build a “visual display wall” representing the major issues of 2020 like COVID-19 and social justice movements. The wall, like the rest of the program, will be backed by local corporate sponsors like Kroger Co., P&G Ventures, First Financial Bank, Vora Ventures, Taft and North American Properties, who see the value in the program just like Cintrifuse.
“First Financial is excited to sponsor the ‘Entrepreneurs Change the World’ summer program,” said John Gavigan, First Financial Bank COO. “Amid all the disruption this pandemic has wrought on our daily lives, we are proud to help turn disruption into opportunity through this innovative program and to play a small part in developing the next generation of entrepreneurs and leaders in our community. We believe these talented students will enjoy an immersive experience that sparks creativity and valuable insights to help address some of society’s most pressing issues.”
One of those pressing issues is sustainability, which is the topic of choice for young entrepreneur Michael Arens. A senior at Xavier University, Arens founded Clean Earth Rovers, LLC in high school. His idea was to create a solar-powered, autonomous machine that swims through the water recycling plastic. He’s worked with Blackshaw and Cintrifuse in the past, and will have the opportunity to lead a few sessions of the program as one of its oldest members. He said on the first day of the program, those involved made it clear that entrepreneurship isn’t just about business.
“It’s about doing something impactful instead of doing something for money,” said Arens. “A lot of startups fail for that reason – they don’t have the passion behind it.. I think the mentorship and networking that we’ll be able to build are really important. That ongoing connection is going to be huge. So I think there are a number of really interesting things coming out of this, and there are some personal opportunities for me and my startup.”
Arens and Blackshaw agree that there should be more programs for entrepreneurs his age and younger. With his experience in the program, he hopes he can help accelerate his own project — which has had to take a pause as he focuses on graduation — while he uses his experience to show other students what’s possible.
“So many people are discouraged from doing or following the path they want because they’re scared of failure,” he said. “But when you’re a little kid, the number of questions you ask is unbelievable because you’re so curious. Then when you’re older, that curiosity is frowned upon. I think having programs like this teaches people the process of successful entrepreneurship and how to go about things. I think it’s something that should be normalized, especially with younger generations.”
For Blackshaw and Cintrifuse, the point isn’t just about helping a startup like Arens or creating a new generation of entrepreneurs. With all the resources and mentorship available to creative young thinkers, Blackshaw hopes to showcase that everything they need for their current or future projects is available in Cincinnati and Ohio.
“We recognize that these are students; they’re not going to go launch a startup and raise a bunch of venture capital tomorrow,” he said. “But we want to make sure that everything we offer in Cincinnati is on their radar. There will be a moment where they go to college and they may think ‘I need to move to another town.’ We want to remind them that if they have an interest in starting a company, we have a fantastic community that will support you, nurture you, encourage you and fund you, and we want to drive that awareness early on. I don’t think many young people realize that about Ohio as a whole, and we need to start earlier.”