On Campus: Harper Program Invests in Teen Entrepreneurs

Harper College is launching a program that aims to coach aspiring teen entrepreneurs on the ins and outs of business and give them a shot at seed money to get their idea off the ground.

Mark Zuckerburg was still in college when he launched Facebook – a project that would make him a billionaire and a household name.

Who’s to say the next great idea couldn’t come from someone even younger?

Carl Mattes is banking on some new business concepts from the bright minds of local high school students – teenagers that the Harper College Small Business Specialist plans to personally coach as part of a unique new Harper program targeting youth entrepreneurs.

Mattes, who has two teenage daughers himself, is heading up a first-ever, grant-funded College program that aims to identify promising young entrepreneurs, educate them on business’ ins and outs, work with them on a business plan and help some actually launch their big idea.

“I absolutely believe that some of the best business ideas lie with today’s high school students,” Mattes says. “All they need is a little coaching to help them make those ideas reality.”

Participants in the iOwn program – as many as 20 area students from grades nine through 12 – will attend class once a week at Harper beginning in October; in April, they’ll present their business plans and pitch their ideas to a panel of local small business executives in a Harper amphitheater.

The top two presenters will nab $2,500 startup grants, provided by community donors.

Mattes says that piece helps make Harper’s new program stand out from the crowd of business-education courses – and believes that potential for seed money could be a big draw.

With an eye on further engaging the teens, iOwn will be built around segments from popular business-themed TV shows – from ABC’s brutal business-pitch hit “Shark Tank” to History Channel’s pawn store series “Pawn Stars” and trucking show “Ice Road Truckers” – and lectures from Mattes that tie those reality shows into actual Chicago-area business reality.

“Running a business is like driving that truck,” Mattes says of how “Truckers” would, for instance, tie in to the entrepreneur program’s overall concept. “Some days, you’re going 90 miles an hour downhill on ice. Some days, you’re trying to truck uphill on sand. That’s reality, and these students will need to hear that. You are rarely, if ever, on a smoothly paved road.”

An information session for the youth entrepreneur program will be held from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, October 19 at the Harper Professional Center, 850 E. Higgins Road in Schaumburg.

Applicants should be in high school, and must have a feasible business idea in mind.

It’s free to apply, but those who are accepted will pay $50 to actually take the class.

“I want them to understand,” Mattes says, “that they’ve got to put skin in the game when it comes to launching their own business.”

The program, a product of the Small Business Development Center at Harper College, is funded through a grant from 2010’s Small Business Jobs Act.

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