If you don’t like the way your electric guitar looks and think a custom paint job would spruce it up, Thomas Berard might just be the person you’re looking for.
The Neuqua Valley High School Junior brought his idea for a web site showcasing his creative skills Tuesday to the launch of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Young Entrepreneurs Program.
Berard joined 20 other budding capitalists and many of their parents in a get-acquainted event before the official October 17 start of the 30-week program.
“This is about creating business leaders,” Naperville Chamber President Mike Evans said, stressing the rigor of the program. “This is a 30-week commitment and you can’t miss a class.”
North Central College will provide the facilities for the program that is an offshoot of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Young Entrepreneur’s Academy.
Before settling on 20 students, the Naperville Chamber interviewed 53 middle and high school students from within the boundaries of School Districts 203 and 204.
“We think we got a pretty good mix of different grades represented,” program coordinator Brianna Belgio said.
The program is split into three 10-week sections, with the first section devoted to developing a clear idea for a business, from the vaguest idea to a workable concept.
The second trimester will work on securing financing for the start-up, including mentoring by BMO Harris Bank, a hands-on experience that will even include the students setting up their own business checking accounts.
The final 10 weeks will concentrate on marketing their products.
When the program is complete, students will file for the official DuPage County paperwork required of a start-up business and market their wares at a Chamber-sponsored business expo.
Teachers, guest speakers and mentors will be drawn not from the academic community, but rather actual business leaders that can give students practical experience.
“This is about putting real business people in front of kids,” Evans said.
Rick Kostopoulos of NewGen Business Solutions will help students cope with the accounting function of a business, especially the relatively recent practice of storing digital information on the “cloud.”
Jerry Staraitis, from the volunteer service, SCORE, stressed that many young people had the beginnings of intriguing entrepreneurial ideas, but practical knowledge eluded them.
“When it comes to starting it, they need a little help,” he said.
Evans said that he would know if the first year of the program was a success when he started getting feedback from the students and their parents.
And he cautioned parents to keep an open mind.
“Kids have had crazy ideas,” he said. “And some of them are called ‘Apple’ and ‘Google.’”
Thomas Berard’s idea for custom-painted guitars, and the web site to market them, came from his experience fashioning his own guitar from parts obtained from internet sites.
What started out as a flat black guitar got a coat of gloss red over it, creating the “relic” look so popular with guitarists.
When he took it to Guitar Center for service, the retailer’s representative was so impressed that he offered to buy it from him.
Thomas wouldn’t part with the guitar that he plays in his band, “Paradigm of Poetry,” but the experience sparked an idea for a start-up business.
“Any idea that a customer had, I could probably do it,” he said.
Granger Middle School 8th grader Joshua Talbot-Bowe also got his idea from personal experience.
“Sometimes I get Walmart gift cards,” he said, making it clear that they weren’t his first choice.
So Joshua’s contributions to commerce will be marketing vending machines allowing customers to trade their unwanted gift cards for others from different companies, or cash--for a fee, of course.
Gregory Middle School 8th grader Ethan Mann wants to market cool containers for sweat masking scents to teenagers.
The products are already available, but many come in large, unwieldy containers.
Ethan’s idea is to put them in smaller containers, like a basketball or football, representing a particular sport.
“Kids could put them on their backpacks,” he said.
Evans said the ultimate judge of the programs success wouldn’t be apparent for many years, but noted that the Naperville Chamber had been helping entrepreneurs for 100 years and said that business acumen and the willingness to take risks were sorely needed in a still-soft economy.
“We’ve lost a little of that lately,” he said.