Kristian Klaasen, a junior at Spencer High School, attended "Business Horizons" summer program at Central College in Pella. As a member of a team, Klaasen created a product out of a pile of junk, which he then marketed to a team of judges.
Klaasen's product, called "Baby Paradise," was a baby carrier complete with mini-fan and other devices to make a baby as comfortable as possible in every situation.
"Having us create a product out of junk was supposed to teach us how to be creative," Klaasen said. "We had to create a product, and then form a business around that product."
Each fall and spring, the Jacobson Institute for Youth Entrepreneurship, housed at the University of Iowa, partners with Ernst & Young to offer the Quick Biz Pitch competition to high school students. Students pitch their business idea and compete for money to help start their company.
"Last year, the students that took the top prizes had existing businesses. Their prize money helped them develop their business further," Jacobson Institute Director Dawn Bowlus said.
Last year, a student who competed from West Lyon High School pitched a pig-vaccinating company she had started with a friend. Instead of herding the pigs from one location to another while vaccinating, she and her friend hold a can of red spray paint in their empty hand, spraying each pig as they vaccinate.
"Now they're hiring employees and working between Iowa, South Dakota and southwest Minnesota," Bowlus said. "They're very smart about how they went about it."
The Jacobson Institute primarily focuses on training teachers to teach entrepreneurship in the school system. Their curriculums are largely focused toward high school students, though they do have programs for elementary and middle school students as well.
"We help provide training to answer the questions 'what is entrepreneurship?' and 'how do you think like an entrepreneur?'" Bowlus said. "'How do you solve the world through an entrepreneurial mindset?'"
The answers to these questions, Bowlus noted, are not only important for future entrepreneurs, but for everyone, regardless of their profession.
"A lot of the skills they walk away with involve problem solving and critical thinking," she said. "We feel like it's a great way for students to get engaged and feel like they're in control."
The Quick Biz Pitch competition is offered each fall and spring, to allow students from each semester to participate. After the spring competition, the top contenders from each semester pitch off for a grand prize. Each semester's winner earns $1,500, and the grand prize winner earns an additional $1,000 and is recognized alongside leading adult entrepreneurs at the Ernst & Young annual gala.
For Klaasen, attending the business conference helped guide him into a field he grows increasingly more passionate about.
"It really taught me a lot," he said. "It was really motivational, and made me more sure of my career path."
Bowlus noted that many of the best business ideas are not very far out of grasp.
"It's the thing you don't think about that often works the best," she said.