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Published: Wednesday, 4/11/2007

Seed-money program enables young entrepreneurs to take root

Jeff Neuman of Sylvania plays ladder golf with a few helpful hints from Samantha Jerabek, middle, and Austin Hendrix during the recent Showcase Sylvania Expo at Tam-O-Shanter. Jeff Neuman of Sylvania plays ladder golf with a few helpful hints from Samantha Jerabek, middle, and Austin Hendrix during the recent Showcase Sylvania Expo at Tam-O-Shanter.
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Northview students get start-up cash

In between homework and other high school activities, several Sylvania students are running their own businesses, offering products such as bumper stickers, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and a ladder golf game.

Seed money for the five start-up businesses, owned and operated by Northview High School students, was awarded as part of a pilot program initiated and funded by the Regional Growth Partnership, with additional financial support from the Sylvania Area Community Improvement Corporation.

It's the region's first-ever high school venture fund, said John Gibney, RGP spokesman.

Amounts awarded to the young entrepreneurs varied, depending on requests made by students in their presentations to the RGP during its annual meeting recently; private money was used to create the venture fund.

The pilot program is designed to provide students with opportunities to create for-profit companies and provide them with real-life experience on what it takes to run a busi-ness.

When Northview students Greg Holshoe and Andy Neuman, both juniors, were looking for ideas for a new business, one stuck out: bumper stickers.

Their business, named Bumps, produces custom-made bumper stickers and magnets; the firm received $1,500 in seed money.

Bumps' client base is an "almost unlimited audience," said Greg. "Everyone has something to say." Andy, his business partner, added: "Everyone has a bumper."

Since many people have appetites for sweets, Magan Gerding and Monica Betz are betting that their Wild Wonders business will tastefully take off. The treat-making business tempted customers with chocolate-dipped pretzels and other goodies during a recent business expo in Sylvania.

"I'm a big chocolate fan, a chocolate lover. I thought there would be a great market for what we make," Magan said. Wild Wonders was awarded $800; funds are being used to pay insurance and licensing costs and purchase equipment and ingredients, she said.

Austin Hendrix and Samantha Jerabek, both seniors, manufacture and sell ladder golf sets. The lawn game, Austin said, is "big on the East Coast." Sets cost $25 unpainted; $30 painted. "They're good for graduation parties and family reunions," Austin said. The company, which received $500, has taken orders for three sets.

Caitlin Berman and Jamie Hamilton run errands and provide personal shopping services for their Uptown Shop-Around customers.

Mike Slomka and Chris Markho, who operate CM Discounts, sell merchandise for their customers on eBay. With $1,416 in venture funds, the students will purchase equipment, such as a camera, and pay marketing costs, among other expenses.

The program, Chris said, "gives kids great opportunities to start up businesses doing what they enjoy." His partner Mike added, "It definitely promotes entrepreneurship for the Sylvania area."

Sylvania Schools and the Sylvania business community are supporting the pilot program. Michael Temple, a local business owner, is volunteering his time as executive director; he serves as a mentor and program coordinator.

"These kids are running real businesses. They are responsible for the life and death of their business. Mentors help guide the kids, and help them stay on track," Mr. Temple said.

If their businesses make money, students are asked to pay back a portion of the venture funds. That way, Mr. Temple said, other students with business plans could apply for funding.

Support on the home front is important as well. "It is critical for parents to be involved," said Lori Taylor, director of Sylvania Schools' career and technical education.

As part of activities in Northview High School instructor Sue Briddell's class, students learn how to write business plans. Ten students elected to pursue funding for their venture proposals through the high school venture fund program.

The goal, the RGP's Mr. Gibney said, is to expand the program into every high school in the area.

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