Event lets Naperville students get down to business

<p>File Photo</p>

File Photo

Todd Kuebelbeck came to North Central College Wednesday to raise start-up funds for Carrot Interactive Technologies and showcase his new product to compete with the dry erase boards so commonly found in classrooms and boardrooms.

Part of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy, the Neuqua Valley freshman pitched his idea to a panel of investors assembled by the Chamber, and came away with $1,100.

“We need a manufactured product,” he said, noting that his family had already invested $1,200 in the fledgling business.

Kuebelbeck’s hand-held, carrot-shaped device has the advantage of portability and, with a tentative price of $150, it would be significantly cheaper than competitor products.

Kuebelbeck said his first market would be local schools in both Naperville districts, and that he already had positive feedback from his alma mater, Crone Middle School.

The start-up capital awarded Kuebelbeck was the most given to any of the 16 young entrepreneurs making presentations at the event.

The judges also named him a regional semi-finalist to compete at the national awards sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“I feel overwhelmed,” Kuebelbeck said after the ceremony. “I wish everybody here could have got what they asked for. We’ve become friends.”

The friendships started when the Naperville Chamber launched the inaugural year of the program young entrepreneurs in fall 2013.

The prospective young capitalists attend classes weekly at North Central College over a nine-month period, gaining insight from guest speakers, mentors and local business people.

They learn how to build a business from scratch, all the way from the basic idea to a product ready for sale to the consumer.

Marketing, media campaigns and web development are all part of the process.

Financing the start-up is a key part of the process and what drew the entrepreneurs to the Wednesday event. All of them were convinced that their ideas had what it took to be the center of a successful business.

“They are blown away by how good these taste,” Manasvi Tatineni, Crone Middle School seventh-grader, said of the cupcake-making kit she was marketing with her partner, Alexandra Gannon, a Neuqua Valley sophomore.

Their start-up, Easy as Cake, was awarded $450 by investors.

Tom Berard made his first custom guitar because he didn’t have the funds to buy a new one, and now guitarists can order one from Berardinelli Custom Guitars, with prices ranging from $600 to $2,000.

“They’re expensive and you can only choose from a few modifications,” he said after being awarded $250 in the competition.

LHP Medical Supplies began when Kevin Laliberty broke his arm one summer and couldn’t stand the sling he got from his doctor. So he fashioned one more to his liking, one that didn’t put as much stress on his neck.

He said his ergonomic arm slings, “don’t have any pressure on the neck. They eliminate neck pain while mobility and comfort are improved.”

Laliberty, a Naperville Central freshman, and his partners, Will Hofner of Crone Middle School and Ryan Popko of Hill Middle School, were awarded $250.

Others gaining financial backing were Modern Kids Tech Tutoring ($400), Josh TMagic ($800), Dawg Ulitmate ($850), and That Tech Guy ($900).

Chamber President Nikki Anderson judged the evening a success, saying she hoped the program would have even more than the $8,000 investors pledged in the first year.

But she also noted that being turned down for loans or getting less than desired was a part of the business world and a good lesson for young entrepreneurs to come to grips with.

“What the kids have done tonight is success in itself,” he said. “The process is the point.”

Kuebelbeck said he learned an important lesson.

“We worked so hard throughout the year,” he said. “Hard work pays off.”