JumpStarting Success

Local high school students get a jump on entrepreneurship.

By Belle Leininger | Published April 3, 2018

Having a skill is one thing. Knowing how to use it is quite another.

Since its conception in 2014, Northern Kentucky University’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) has worked as an interdisciplinary program designed to seed an entrepreneurial mindset across the campus and beyond.

CIE works to provide NKU and the region with resources through a number of programs, including INKUBATOR, INKUBIZ, and INKUREKA, which all help encourage individuals to pursue and validate their ideas, as well as provide access and support to the entrepreneurial business community.

According to Rodney D’Souza, the Fifth Third Bank Endowed Professor of Entrepreneurship and CIE director, programs offered by the CIE focus around connecting entrepreneurial-driven individuals with professional resources, access to knowledge, and the strong support systems they need to be successful. One example of this is the JumpStart program, which is tailored to teach local high schoolers about importance of entrepreneurship and the idea generation process.

dsouza Rodney D'Souza

“Our JumpStart program is specifically targeting high school students, giving them experiences of coming to a college campus, understanding what entrepreneurship is all about,” D’Souza says. “And not just entrepreneurship in the college of business, but getting a complete view of how entrepreneurship education can complement any degree program.”

Often, classes from various high school disciplines will participate in the JumpStart program. Whether their focus is computer science, green engineering or graphic design, JumpStart introduces high schoolers to an entrepreneurial mindset and teaches them how to best understand a customer-focused business model approach and identify problems as opportunities.Jeff Varrone, student coordinator for CIE, describes JumpStart as an immersive, hands-on program for high schoolers that allows them to experience new ideas relatable to existing skillsets. They also learn how to apply these concepts to real-world applications.

“What we try and help introduce to [students] is, is there actually a customer base out there?” says Varrone. “Do people really need this? Who are those people, and how are you going to market to them? Or how do you create a business around that idea that you’re coming up with?”

High schools don’t always have the resources to offer students opportunities to learn about entrepreneurship, which has led some local teachers and principals to team with the CIE and participate in the JumpStart program to allow their students the chance to learn about idea generation in a workshop setting.

“The teachers love the fact that it gives the opportunity for students to actually sell an idea,” says Varrone. “That ability to stand up in front of a panel of people from the community and actually present an idea, and be confident in who you are and in your idea.”

On April 4-5, 2018, students from Boone County High School will gather at NKU for a two-day JumpStart program that will differ slightly from those that came before, as it will be the first presented alongside the Chellgren Pathways to Entrepreneurship Speaker Series. This speaker series is an annual CIE outreach effort that provides students a chance to speak with and learn from community members heavily involved with entrepreneurship, on both local and national levels.

As with each JumpStart, Boone County students will put their new skills to the test by presenting to a panel of local judges on the second day. This JumpStart program will then continue in the Student Union Ballroom at 12:15 p.m. on Thursday, April 5, with a luncheon and Chellgren Pathways to Entrepreneurship guest speaker, Brad Zapp.

Zapp, an alumnus of Boone County High School himself, is founder and managing partner of Connetic Ventures, the first and only multi-state Venture Capital firm in Kentucky, as well as a CIE board member. Zapp is excited to share his message with students from his former high school, as well as NKU students; but his support extends beyond just his talk.  His deep rooted passion for entrepreneurship in this region includes his company, Connectic Ventures, sponsoring the Jumpstart program, in order to further support the entrepreneurial ecosystem in this region, and introduce high school student to the power of entrepreneurship.



Chellgren Pathways to Entrepreneurship featured speaker, Brad Zapp, is the founder and managing partner of Connetic Ventures, a northern Kentucky-based angel investment fund established in 2014. But what is angel investing exactly? While other investment strategies focus on the potential profitability of a product or service, angel investment supports entrepreneurs and their dreams, loaning funds under favorable terms to help startups get off the ground or weather a challenging time. Using the term "angel" in this context originated on Broadway, where welathy patrons often fund theatrical productions.

Crowdfunding is a popular angel investment platform, as are networks like Connetic Ventures, which pool together funds from indivuduals who want to invest wealth in supporting entrepreneurs. Startups then pitch to Connetic to receive funds. Zapp first became interested in angel investing after putting a small amount of his own money into local startup ChoreMonster.