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High schoolers hone entrepreneurial skills at USF’s Youth Venture summer camp

TAMPA- Nearly two dozen aspiring high school entrepreneurs learned first-hand what it takes to grow a budding business idea from infancy to prototype — in the span of three days.

The Youth Venture summer camp, offered for the first time June 8-10 at the University of South Florida’s Nault Center for Entrepreneurship at the Muma College of Business, was a pilot program designed to introduce entrepreneurial skills to the next generation of business builders.

“The goal is to stimulate an entrepreneurial mindset among high schoolers,” said Dirk Libaers, director of the Nault Center for Entrepreneurship at the USF Muma College of Business. 

Libaers said the idea for the camp began through his affiliation with the USF Stavros Center for Free Enterprise and Economic Education and working with its vast network of high school teachers who teach entrepreneurship and management.

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Assistant Professor Lin Jiang talks to a student at the Youth Venture summer camp.

The three-day, two-night camp included classroom instruction led by USF faculty, guest speaker panels featuring serial entrepreneurs, team-building exercises, tours of the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame and the Student Innovation Incubator on USF’s Tampa campus, a scavenger hunt, and a taste of college residential life in on-campus housing at Juniper-Poplar Hall.

Youth Venture campers learned about the different stages in the entrepreneurial business-building process and how to take an idea from inception to product prototype.

Isaac Cohen, a senior who just graduated from Jefferson High School, said the camp was an eye-opening experience. 

“One of the biggest surprises is probably that none of the entrepreneurs who were here majored in anything related to what their business was in,” Cohen said. “It’s been nice hearing speakers talk about their experiences.”

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Brian Kornfeld talks to students at the Youth Venture summer camp.

Cohen said one of the most difficult parts was formulating an innovative business idea. 

“It’s kind of difficult thinking of problems to solve and then finding ways to solve it. It’s hard to open your mind to truly disruptive ideas when you’re surrounded with things that are normal,” he said.

Team member and fellow camper Claire Li said she applied to the camp because she wanted to learn more about starting a business. Li said their team struggled with choosing which business idea to pursue but says the camp has been a great learning experience.

“The biggest takeaway is that you need a team. You need people to do it with you. You can’t do it yourself,” she said.

The Youth Venture summer camp featured testimonials from entrepreneurs and community and business leaders, including Sarah Combs, CEO of the University Area Community Development Corporation; Mark J. Hunter, co-founder of KLH Capital; Brian Kornfeld, co-founder of Synapse; Jerome Smalls, founder of SoccerGemz; Gary Hensley, President and CEO of Livingtree; Patrick Maslanka, early-stage tech investor; and Brittany Rohr, founder and CEO of Rohring Results.

Campers even had a visit from USF President Rhea Law hours before the university announced a major financial boost to the entrepreneurship center: alumnus Jay Nault made a $10 million gift to name the center.

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USF President Rhea Law visits with students at the Youth Venture summer camp.

The camp culminated with teams of students presenting their innovative business ideas in a pitch competition to a panel of judges, which included Ramesh Saligame, Sunil Singhal and Maslanka. The top three teams were:

  • First-place — Team Aiden developed a protype of a cupholder made of bamboo, a sustainable material. The team received a $100 Amazon gift card.
  • Second-place  — Team Isaac pitched an app that allows youngsters to see what sports games are seeking players across the Tampa Bay region using a freemium revenue model. The team received a $50 Amazon gift card.
  • Third-place — Team Foolusia proposed new healthy food items made of jackfruit and mango. The team won a $25 Amazon gift card.
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Members of Team Aiden won first-place at the Youth Venture summer camp,

The goal of the camp was to not only expose high schoolers to entrepreneurship and innovation, but to give them an overview of what’s available at a major university research campus, and ultimately increasing the pipeline of entrepreneurial students, he said.

Youth Venture camp was one of a series of summer camps offered by USF Youth Experiences.

“You need to spot opportunities and then you need to evaluate and select the most promising opportunity,” Libaers said. “You need to develop a founding team because all successful ventures are started by a team of individuals, not just individuals. And then you design a business model around your idea.”

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