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Recycled Steel Water Bottle Business, Information Website for Teens Win $5,000 Grants in Jump Start Kansas

posted Feb 16, 2012 in ACADEMICS

Two groups of entrepreneurs can make their ideas a reality even before they’ve graduated high school, thanks to the first-ever Jump Start Kansas competition at McPherson College.

The competition challenged all high school students in Kansas to submit their ideas for an entrepreneurial venture – either commercial or non-profit. On Feb. 15, 10 finalists – five in each category – presented their ideas for a shot at the top prize – a $5,000 grant to pursue their idea and a $5,000 annual scholarship should they choose to attend McPherson College.

The winners were also announced the same day by a judging panel of McPherson College faculty and staff as well as entrepreneurial leaders in the McPherson Community. The winners in the commercial category were Damien Gilbert and Colin Johnson, juniors at Wichita East High, with their business SteelSalvation.

The top prize in the non-profit category went to Kenan Meadows and Marcus Sheppard, seniors at F.L. Schlagle in Kansas City, and Joseph Belcher, junior at F.L. Schlagle, with their organization Kcteenlink.

Damien Gilbert and Colin Johnson presenting their idea 'SteelSalvation'.
Gilbert and Johnson presented an idea to take recycled scrap steel and turn it into clean, durable and environmentally friendly water bottles. They framed the business as one way to counter the flood of disposable plastic water bottles thrown away every day – about 700 every second in the United States alone, they said. By the time their five minute presentation was over, they said nearly a quarter million bottles were thrown away, on average.

The potential for profit was also substantial: They expected that selling the water bottles could net them a whopping 1,900 percent profit and $100,000 in their first year.

“It’s better for the planet, it’s better for Kansas and it’s better for you,” Gilbert said.

Johnson said they were bringing on another partner, Bob Alldritt, a junior at Wichita East, who is good at accounting. He said that $5,000 gives them real hope of turning what started as an idea in marketing class into a sustainable business.

“I’m really glad they’re extending entrepreneurship to the high school crowd,” Johnson said. “It’s pretty unique for a college to reach out like this. It’s great that McPherson College is giving us this opportunity that we’ve had here today.”

Marcus Sheppard, Kenan Meadows and Joseph Belcher presenting 'KCTeenLink'. is a non-profit website designed to give teenagers a forum to ask difficult or hard-to-find questions from experts in a variety of fields – careers, education, fashion, technology sports and more.

“With this site, because everything will be anonymous, you can ask anything and get an expert opinion,” Meadows said.

They also envision it as a place for creative teenagers to showcase their work and get exposure – such as game designers, musicians and artists.

“It’s not just a place for help, it’s a place for fun,” Meadows said.

The Kcteenlink team was already well on their way before the competition, having forged partnerships and landing a total of $30,000 in grants. The Jump Start Kansas grant has got them thinking beyond Kansas City and extending the site to all of Kansas and even beyond.

“This was a great opportunity,” Meadows said. “This is going to be huge.”

Belcher agreed, saying that he appreciated that McPherson College was supporting high school entrepreneurs.

“It’s a big help. We just really appreciate the opportunity to come here and pitch our idea,” he said. “Most big colleges wouldn’t do something like this to promote teens in the community.”

Michael Schneider, McPherson College president, said that the judging panel had a tough time choosing from among so many good ideas.

“This was quality,” he said. “It was really tight and there was a lot of discussion as they decided this.”

Dr. Kori Gregg, executive director of entrepreneurship, shared how impressed she was with the presentations.

“Those were incredible,” she said. “I think you can all agree that they did an extremely good job.”

All of the finalists are going to be rewarded for all their hard work. Those who attend McPherson College will all receive a $1,000 annual scholarship to attend the college. They will also immediately qualify for $500 of funding from the college’s Horizon Fund when they come to McPherson College. The college’s total financial commitment to these young entrepreneurs exceeds $100,000.

The challenge is part of the college’s “Freedom to Jump” entrepreneurship initiative, which officially launched in November last year. As the program has developed, McPherson College has given micro-grants of up to $500 to one out of every 10 students enrolled at McPherson College through the Horizon Fund. Also, for the last two years, the college has offered the Global Enterprise Challenge. In this competition, students are asked to come up with a sustainable solution to help those in a foreign country in just a few days – Haiti in 2010 and Panama in 2011. The winning teams receive scholarships and the opportunity to travel to the country and work on putting their ideas into effect. Also, this fall the college has offered a minor in “Transformative Entrepreneurship” for the first time, allowing students to make entrepreneurship a part of their degree, regardless of their major area of study.

Schneider encouraged all the finalists in the competition and high school entrepreneurs throughout the state to take a look at McPherson College.

“We value your ideas. They’re good ideas,” he said. “Maybe you’ll change the world. Everything starts with an idea.”

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