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The City Journals

Students gain advice as they decide to ‘Risk It’ in entrepreneurial world

Aug 05, 2019 03:53PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Alta High sophomore John Manouskian knows he wants to start a business, but “is still trying to put the pieces together.”

That’s why he decided to attend Canyon School District’s annual “Risk It” entrepreneurial conference, which gave him tips as well as a network of people he could call upon.

“It’s super important to get the assistance from people and to learn from them how to be successful, how to put my best self out there,” he said.

The morning conference welcomed high school students to three breakout sessions in addition to listening to the keynote speaker Katie Holland, who founded Illuminate, a women’s networking group.

Holland, who said when she took a job thinking she’d be welcomed for her ideas and knowledge, instead was humiliated when she was told, “‘We all want to see you bend over to pick up paper clips.’ What did I do? I picked up my purse and walked out.” 

However, through her career, she embraced the concept “each of us is golden by nature.” 

“Life takes us over bruises, scrapes and bumps and may cover up our greatness, but you’re still golden. I coasted a lot at your age,” she told the students. “If I didn’t, it would have saved me a boat load of time. Dare to put yourself out there and commit to be your best self.”

Through those ups and downs, Holland appreciated those who supported her, and in turn developed her own business, which helps 2,000 women “lift each other up” as well as mentor students. 

Her speech inspired those in attendance, including Brighton senior Margaret Selfridge. 

“It would be great to network with Illuminate to see how they can help me get my own business going,” she said. “I want to provide a mental health app with tools, self-help, psychologists, ways for people to get the help they need.”

In the first round of breakouts, Sam Ricks, Cotopaxi vice president of creative and founding member, welcomed future entrepreneurs and business leaders by telling them his story. After starting as a children’s book illustrator, he went to graduate school for graphic design and worked with Davis Smith. Together, as they were kicking around new ideas, they decided to open a business that not just sold products, but also gave back to the community. 

Smith, who grew up in Ecuador, named the company after the active volcano in the Andes Mountains and used the llama, which is found in the southern part of the country, as their mascot. 

Ricks’ job was to build a brand around the name and mascot for adventure travel as well as show how they embrace their core value of being a great citizen to the world.

“We had quit our jobs and were working full time out of a co-worker’s living room for months, believing in the product, but wanting to tie it back to our humanitarian mission and values,” he said. “We had no contracts, no relationships with companies. Nobody knew who we were. I’m not kidding you, it was hard, but we believed.”

That belief translated into launching free musical festivals with an adventure scavenger hunt in several cities, giving participants a free backpack made of scrap fabric. The adventure scavenger hunt and the backpacks, which are their No. 1 seller, are popular annual events.

“It’s going to be a lot harder than you think. For months, we survived on four hours of sleep. It was fun and exciting, but it’s not going to come super easy. Be sure to network with other people and be open to other peoples’ ideas,” Ricks

In the room next door, Hillcrest High senior Emily Rupper, who was a member of the Jr. Women in Business, said she has learned to present herself with conviction and shared a story where it paid off.

“I was in Park City and recognized a billionaire seated next to me,” she said. “I walked over and said, ‘Hi, my name is Emily Rupper and you want to know me. I’m 18. I value people, speak Chinese and have lived abroad.’ I knew I had less than 30 seconds and that is when you have to show you have energy, confidence and power. It will connect you with people who will be important in your life.”

And for Rupper, it resulted in an internship opportunity, which she turned down as she is attending Brigham Young University this summer. She also has her own marketing business.

The elevator speech is a key part of success, said Sean Steinman, of Windermere Real Estate-Utah.

“You need to be present, show them what makes you unique,” he said. “Put your passion in what you do. How you put yourself out there and your experience will tell how that moment is created. And learn from failure. Disney failed 100 times, yet he still got the bank funding and created something legendary from his vision. Show them who you are and why you get up in the morning.”

Hillcrest High senior Gabriella Hernandez found lots of networking opportunities, connecting with entrepreneurs who gave her advice for her graphic design business.

“I’m hearing stories and learning there are opportunities everywhere,” she said. “I’m finding resources and tips that will be useful.”

During the last rotation, University of Utah Director of Investments Taylor Bench told students about his part of the electronic asthma tracker that helps patients with asthma symptoms in self-assessment and monitoring.

“It could reduce ER visits by 98%, help these people and bring about a change in the culture, but what was the problem?” he asked students, who identified that doctors, hospitals and insurance companies may not get as much money if it wasn’t created. “We found we needed to ask a lot of questions, not to be afraid to keep trying. Starting a business is difficult, but if you’re able to address customers’ needs, and come up with a solution for people, it is worth it and that is what makes a great business.”