Student business store idea a finalist

January 19, 2017
The Journal Gazette
by Frank Gray

You don’t have to be 50 years old to be an entrepreneur.

There are lots of young people out there – high school students, college students – who come up with their own products, hoping to be their own boss.

One local high school student, for example, came up with something called a Mallow Guard, a gadget that lets you cook marshmallows over a campfire without having them fall into the fire. (You can find it on Facebook).

Steve Franks, an entrepreneur and arts enthusiast, thinks there’s a need for retail space where students can not just display their creations but sell them.

The idea has made him one of four finalists from Fort Wayne for a grant from the Knight Cities Challenge.

Franks’ idea is to open a store, preferably downtown, that would be managed by students and sell goods created by students from around the region. It would give college students realistic experience in managing a retail shop, and students could work together tweaking products, ideas, packaging and so on.

Students create all kinds of things, ranging from bath and beauty products to food to fashion – and the occasional marshmallow cooker.

“It would be nice to have a permanent market,” Franks said. “Students are very creative and interested in creating something of their own.”

They are busy coming up with their own ideas at New Tech high schools and at the Student Venture lab at the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center. There has been a student competition in LaGrange County and one is planned for DeKalb County.

But coming up with an idea and marketing yourself can be difficult, which is why Franks wants to create a shop specifically for students. The plan is that the shop, if it agrees to carry a product, would actually buy the products.

“For student entrepreneurs to grow, they need to operate in a realistic setting but do so in an environment where they don’t have a lot of risk,” Franks said.

Franks submitted his idea to the Knight Cities Challenge, but he also mentioned it to an organization called Believe In a Dream, and officials there were impressed enough that they agreed to kick in some seed money and not wait to see whether Franks’ idea actually receives a grant from the competition.

Other finalists for the area for grants include:

Creation of a digital platform that connects local graduates that will keep and attract talented workers to Fort Wayne and encourage those who leave to return to the city. That idea was submitted by the Big Car Collaborative in Indianapolis.

Create a resource center called My Town Square where communities or neighborhoods could turn for advice and ideas for making improvements to neighborhoods or towns. People could turn to the center in person or on the internet. The idea was submitted by Dan Baisden-Kennedy and Hoch Associates.

The Porch Project, which would create more informal gathering spaces, including front porches. Submitted by Rena Bradley of Bridge of Grace Compassionate Ministries Center.

Actual winners of the grants will be announced in June.