Regional organizations collaborate to enable young tri-State entrepreneurs

Austin Ambrose
May 3, 2017

A crowd of 300 packed the auditorium of Ohio University’s Southern Campus March 28 to watch 14 entrepreneurial venture finalist teams present in the second annual Glockner Dare to Dream high school pitch competition. This year’s competition encouraged teams to emphasize the “triple bottom line” —  working not only for fiscal viability, but also positive social and environmental impact.

Battery-charging shoes headed the roster of multiple winners and earned Chloe Porter, Mackenzie Cole and Harlee Fuller—juniors at Kentucky’s Russell High School— first place overall in this year’s competition. Go-Green Shoes combines rotational energy with stylish footwear in an innovative concept for everyday living. 

“I am very proud of our students,” Russell High School teacher Melissa Wilburn said. “These students demonstrate a level of commitment necessary to succeed in the business community, college and beyond.”

Forty students, comprising 14 teams from 10 different high schools and three states, pitched their ideas for $24,000 in awards. An initial pool of 250 students scattered across schools in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia was narrowed down to the winning finalists. Regional sponsors provided all the funding for the awards.

“I want our children to not just find problems and complain about them but find problems and identify solutions for them,” April Perry, CEO of Kentucky Farmers’ Bank, said. “It’s important for the children to be the future change in our communities.”

Dare to Dream was conceived during a multistate meeting between regional economic developers and civic and business leaders. Aspiring to create a way to encourage local entrepreneurship, the group decided to better enable the region’s young leaders and visionaries. 

“We wanted to provide high school students with the chance to see an alternative career path, whether that be immediately after high school or in college; to keep students in the tristate area starting businesses here,” Mike Thompson, a retired Bob Evans executive who works with TechGROWTH Ohio and the Lawrence County Economic Development Corporation, said.

Dare to Dream creates a win-win situation for the schools and businesses of the tristate community: The investors provide an opportunity to develop young entrepreneurs through cash incentives, and schools can motivate passionate and talented students. Nate Kline, a Portsmouth High School teacher, turned the competition into a 16-team class idea-creation project. The school held an internal event to select the two best ventures for the Dare to Dream finale.

The field of ideas this year spanned the gamut of creativity, from digital gaming facilities that connect community members with gaming systems to innovations in physical therapy centers. The creative ideas evident in all finalists’ presentations exemplify the rationale for local businesses and entrepreneurs who believe in area youth.

“Witnessing these young people’s gifts and talents inspires me and gives me hope in the future of our region and this country,” Andy Glockner said. The Glockners have a three-generation family business focusing on vehicle sales, repair and affiliated services.

Thompson approached the Glockners seeking sponsorship for the competition’s first year. In 2017, Glockner doubled down on sponsorship for year two, paying for naming rights.

“I had a wonderful adventure and will use the money wisely,” GO-Green Shoes’ Chloe Porter said to Glockner at the event. “I am searching for the perfect magnet to power the kinetic energy for the GO Green Shoes. To sponsor such a mission for our community is a testimony of your philanthropy.”

Among the donors to the prize pool was a Legacy Fund from the estate of William Beale, inventor and founder of Sunpower, Inc. Beale’s daughter, Faith Knutsen — Associate Director of Operations for TechGROWTH Ohio — distributed the Legacy funding to four of the competing teams. 

“My father would have been so impressed by the verve and dedication of these young entrepreneurs,” Knusten said. “Their creative ventures in waste reduction and product recycling could have marked positive impact on the preservation of our natural resources as well as compelling place in a competitive market.”

Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs also collaborated in the competition. The Voinovich School has a 30-year history of regional engagement and connectivity. For the last 10 years, the School has received renewed and expanded federal, state and partner funding to support new venture development through multiple programs. The technology start-up program TechGROWTH Ohio, which offers professional business counseling and competitive funding to technology startups in the 20 counties of SE Ohio, is one example.

“A brilliant new innovation is only the first step toward a commercially viable startup,” explained TechGROWTH Director John Glazer. “The great lessons our many Dare to Dream winners gained from the experience strengthen their chances for success as they move forward to implement either these or future ideas in their continuing path toward regional startup success.”