The skill of reading is the foundation of your child's success in education. Parents instinctively know this and start singing ABCs to their children at a very young age.

Setting up street-corner lemonade stands, mowing lawns, babysitting, shoveling snow, slinging ice cream sodas, pumping gas - these are the traditional entrepreneurial endeavors of yesterday's youth.

Today, state leaders and young entrepreneurs share the vision that today's young people seek more relevance inside and outside their classrooms by using innovation and creativity.

Students as young as middle school are becoming involved in web design, online videos, fashion design, the environmental movement and global communications. During the adolescent years, students can begin identifying their passions, cultivating their talents and thinking about future careers. During high school, they can put their dreams into action.

"Beware of procrastination," cautioned Yaves Ellis, (aka the Street Pastor), a Columbus rapper and national recording artist. "It's not if I become a millionaire, it's when." Ellis entertained and inspired more than 250 youth from 21 schools in the Columbus area on February 23 during National Entrepreneurship Week in Ohio at the Vern Riffe Center in Columbus. Sponsored by the Ohio Department of Development and the Ohio Department of Education, the event focused on youth creativity and included an expo for business entrepreneurs, which was emceed by Cabot Rea, NBC 4 news anchor.

Ellis, 23, graduate of Whitehall Yearling High School, earned a degree in marketing from the Ohio State University (OSU) Fisher College of Business. Ellis told middle and high school students how he started his own business - Sling Shot Media Group - by ghostwriting and producing songs, which led to innovative ways to market his own CDs and products. "One thing about success is that you have to continue to be a success. You have to have a vision," Ellis said.

In this fast-paced, technological, global economy, possibilities for new and innovative business concepts seem endless. Columbus entrepreneur Dezmon Landers served as facilitator of the event's college and high school student panel. After he graduated from Eastmoor Academy in Columbus, he earned a family financial management degree from the College of Human Ecology at OSU, started a business in family finances at Simplyfied.com, and serves on the state's Ohio Entrepreneurial Advisory Council.

"One of the opportunities that didn't use to exist is the fact that young people today can leverage technology in whatever capacity they need to increase their chances of getting a job, to open up a career path, to reach more people," Landers said. "They need less resources today and can increase their ability to reach a larger customer base, either by coming up with a new idea or leveraging the internet to get to more customers, faster."

The concept for his family finance business came to him during a college class when he learned that the checks people bounce waste tremendous sums of money. "A lightbulb went off when I learned that banks make $1.8 billion a year in overdrafting," he said. Today, he aggregates complex information so people can understand it in a simple way and gives advice on day-to-day tactics people can use to remain financially secure.

Landers facilitated a morning panel of college speakers and a high school audience with Lt. Governor Lee Fisher.


Fisher engages young entrepreneurs
"Today is a special day for me," Fisher told the students. "I'm speaking to the people who are going to reinvent Ohio."
Innovation, the depth of entrepreneurship, and the strength of ideas coming from Ohio's youth will re-establish the state's struggling economy, he said. All successful businesses "started with an idea in the shower, in the car, in the garage," he said. Students should take out a piece of paper or a blank laptop screen and begin to "freeflow" ideas they feel passionate about, then narrow down to the concepts that interest them most.

He urged the youth to seek understanding of what consumers need, and then use passion, research and enthusiasm to become the conveners and catalysts for innovation. "Standing still is the same thing as falling behind," he said. "People's needs and your passions - where they intersect - you've got a potential business."

Having just announced the day before that he intended to run for the U.S. Senate, Fisher received a token of appreciation from another young rapper and Beechcroft High School graduate, P.J. Paris Fennoy - a T-shirt with the words: "Run D.C."

Ohio Department of Education Superintendent Deborah Delisle, who also addressed the Economic-Education Leadership Summit with the lieutenant governor that same week, called for collaboration among business leaders and educators to provide mentoring, internships, and hands-on, project-based learning for Ohio's students. "It's clear that our students' futures are dependent upon their ability to cross geographical, cultural and economic boundaries," Delisle said. "For today's youth to gain the essential skills to cross these current divides, we need to strengthen now - more than ever - our partnerships with business."


College entrepreneurs share experience
Six Columbus State Community College (CSCC) students who major in business and entrepreneurship shared stories, inspiration and advice with students and teachers on a panel. Among the college's 5,000 business students, 800 are specializing in entrepreneurship and business management, according to the college's president, Val Moeller.

Kendrea Woods, who would like to open her own full-service salon when she graduates from CSCC, finds a personal reason to inspire her: "Nothing motivates me like my daughter." She advised students to take pride in continuing education. "Be excited that you are first generation college students. You're setting the standards and goals for the other kids in your family," Woods said.

For CSCC students who are working together, supportive people are key to entrepreneurial success, said Todd Medoza, an industrial entrepreneur in graduate school. His entrepreneurial company takes new products "from idea to market," he said. Medoza tells students to write down the next day's agenda and to learn from today's mistakes. "Success is getting used to failures," Medoza said.

James Quarles, a graphic designer who will soon graduate from the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD), told students to find someone - a guidance counselor or teacher - to provide a listening ear. "Talk to someone you're comfortable with to convey your passion."
Kelly Riddlebaugh would like to open his own bait shop and perfect his expertise as a professional fisherman. He advised students to attend every class, study hard and avoid partying. "This is something you have to learn your freshman year," he said.

Entrepreneurship also can spark mid-career changes. For James Hastritch, a former manager in a large corporation who is semi-retired, the handyman business he started will soon grow into an indoor-outdoor retail store. He wants to sell misting systems and provide training classes in how to grow food organically. "Success for me is doing what I love: Having a healthy family, a healthy business, living in a healthy community, and making a lot of money."


Education and development collaborate
Collaboration on this event, as well as the formation of the Ohio Entrepreneurship Advisory Council, are ways state agencies are working together to prepare all students for success in the 21st century workforce.

Iris Cooper, director of the Entrepreneurship and Small Business Division at the Ohio Department of Development, said she sees the need for business expertise and clear career goals both at the office and at home. "As a mother, I believe in teaching our youth about ownership, rather than consumership. I've had this conversation with my own son regarding his career goals," she said. "In Ohio, entrepreneurship is at the forefront of the Ohio Department of Development's strategy to grow Ohio's economy."

Marilyn Troyer, senior associate superintendent at the ODE, congratulated Emily Hannon and Tyler Cole of Butler Tech Career Center for their creation of Digital3Rs, an online company that is creating an interactive computerized system to replace traditional computer-aided instruction.

Troyer also explained how teaching entrepreneurial skills could help more students earn high school and college degrees. "Unfortunately for many students, disillusionment, disinterest and disenfranchisement from school occur by the ninth grade, where we experience our largest dropout rates," Troyer said. "So we need to talk about entrepreneurship in the middle school years, when adolescents are forming their interests and discovering their talents."

CSCC President Val Moeller told the audience that Ohio could take advantage of tough economic times. "Never waste a good crisis," she said. "Community colleges are on the forefront of teaching and providing entrepreneurial thinking skills," Moeller said. "We have announced a new entrepreneurial certificate program to support these skills."

Eric Troy, associate director of 21st century skills at the ODE, who invited the high school students to attend, including the rap artists, said upcoming generations of students think differently today. "Students who make up Generation Y are not looking for jobs, they're creating their own jobs. The 21st century skills of entrepreneurial thinking, creative and critical thinking skills, problem solving, and global literacy will continue to be the areas of knowledge students will need for generations to come," Troy said.


Dorothea Howe is a senior writer and editor at the Ohio Department of Education.