Student ideas: The StartEdUP Foundation encourages kids to pitch entrepreneurial solutions to local problems

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At its core, The StartEdUP Foundation places students and business owners into a room and allows innovation to happen. However, the nonprofit plans to expand its to inspire kids in a different way.

Noblesville High School teacher Don Wettrick inspired the program when he launched a class for innovation and open-source learning, where students were allowed to work on whatever project they wanted for the duration of class.

When the Indiana Economic Development Commission learned of Wettrick’s innovation, it sought his assistance with one of its programs, Innovate WithIN. The initiative brings high school students in front of a panel of judges to pitch entrepreneurial ideas. 

Jennifer Wiese, owner of BeeFree Gluten Free, speaks to students on a problem she hopes they can solve.

“They have this big competition called Innovate WithIN, and after the winner is done, they need help with, ‘What does a kid do when he gets an oversized check?’” Wettrick said.

Wettrick’s collaboration with WithIN led to him founding The StartEdUP Foundation in February 2018.

Now, Hamilton Southeastern Schools are taking part, too, with the recent creation of an innovations class. Current was unable to obtain a comment from HSE teacher Kelsey Habig, who is teaching the class, despite multiple attempts.

“We do events once a month. We go to local co-working spaces, and our format is we have a soft skill a month presented by a student — five minutes of how you connect with people, how to use LinkedIN,” Wettrick said. “Then our guest of the night, and our guest of the night is a smaller deserving nonprofit, they share what they do, what they are, and they also share with us a problem.”

Several of the StartEdUP Foundation’s events have been conducted in Fishers. Students work together to create a solution for a specific problem. The Fishers YMCA, for example, presented on how to fix the problem of shutting down116th Street.

Wettrick said 30 to 70 students typically attend each event. They break into teams of seven to 10 and come up with a three-minute pitch solution in 35 minutes. They then pitch it to the guest.

This month, Wettrick said a cash prize will be awarded to the winners.

“Starting (this month), we are going to give $500 to the winning team to implement that plan each time,” he said. “The whole point is to create an ecosystem of entrepreneurism. These kids start to know what a good pitch is and start thinking for opportunities.”

Wettrick said he’s not looking to make money with the pitch solutions students create. Rather, he is trying to create student entrepreneurs.

In addition to the $500 pitch award, Wettrick said the foundation is considering launching a program where it listens to a student’s business idea and possibly invests in it.

“They show us their financials. We know the chances of them being successful are pretty good, so we invest in kids who want to scale up,” said Wettrick, adding that $2,500 will be the minimum investment in student projects when the program launches.

The goal, Wettrick said, is for students to return the $2,500 — with no interest — when their business succeeds.

“We want you to be successful and we want our money back over the course of two years, and then if you’re successful, we ask that you help that next 17-year-old,” Wettrick said.

If a student attends an event with The StartEdUP Foundation, Wettrick said there’s an 85 percent chance that student will attend another event in the future.

Students listen as they form a plan to pitch a solution to a business’s problem.

Getting started

Don Wettrick said if a student is interested in either The StartEdUP Foundation, the $500 pitch award or the $2,500 investment program, they should first attend an event.

“The best place to start is go to an event,” he said. “Why apply (for the investment) right now when you can get $500 to start? Then you’re going to be on our radar, so that $2,500 is now $3,000 or more, so if you have a great business idea and want to scale up, go to an event first.”

For a list of events, visit The StartEdUP Foundation Facebook page.

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