No Time Like the Present For Young Entreprenuers
(From The St. Loius Post Dispatch)
BY STEVE GIEGERICH • email@example.com
At an age when most kids are still fretting over acne or lining up a date for the Christmas Dance, the holiday weekend finds John Schenk in the midst of a major transition.
After nearly eight years as an entrepreneur selling sports autographs, Schenk is poised to leap into the non-profit sector, directing an organization for troubled teens.
Unlike late bloomers like Mark Zuckerberg (a Harvard sophomore when he founded Facebook) or Warren Buffett (who'd passed the ripe old age of 30 before earning his first million), Schenk entered the business world as a fourth grader buying and selling sports autographs on E-Bay.
It didn't long for the South County teen to realize the majority sports autographs pedaled online were not what they claimed to be.
"I saw a lot of parents buying this stuff for Christmas and birthdays," recalled Schenk, now 18. "It wasn't fair that (most of the signings) were forged."
He responded by starting a memorabilia marketing company overseeing private and public signings at which the owner -- then 6th grader John Schenk --personally verified the authenticity of each autograph.
He was soon marketing autographs for the likes of Hall-of-Famers Stan Musial, Lou Brock and Bob Gibson.
It was with young people like Schenk in mind that Tanya Hamilton, a 29-year-old graduate of Clayton High School two years ago launched a national organization to foster and promote teen entrepreneurship.
In her capacity as executive director of Tulsa-based Independent Youth, Hamilton has spent the last two years making presentations on the entrepreneurial spirit to students at middle and high schools across the country.
Hamilton, who holds an M.B.A. from the University of Portland, gives secondary education props for teaching basic business principles.
But she says the instruction falls short when the subject turns to entrepreurship -- a term which Hamilton, citing a business survey, says nearly 25 percent of the nation's high school students can't define.
Most (young people) don't know you can turn a skill or trade back into entrepreneurship," she said.
Last summer, the organization sponsored its first camp for young entrepreneurs in Tulsa. The camp program will expand to St. Louis next summer.
The non-profit earlier this month gathered some of the best and brightest young entrepreneurial minds -- Schenk's included -- to share their stories at Independent Youth symposium University of Missouri-St. Louis.
The Independent Youth includes an 11-year-old purveyor of salad dressings, a teen who markets "manly-scented candles" (bacon and fresh cut grass being among the most popular) and a California teen that turned a humanitarian exercise, stocking care packages for the homeless, into a non-profit enterprise.
Even in that group, Schenk stood out as a grizzled veteran of the business wars, detailing both the rise and fall of his memorabilia venture after a falling out with with a falling out with his business partner.
It's pretty safe to say that Schenk is the only senior at St. John Vianney High School that commemorated the legal transition to adulthood, his 18th birthday, by signing court papers to dissolve the partnership.
Schenk is now moving in a different direction, as the executive director of a pair of newly-minted nonprofits that will provide peer counseling to teens troubled by school, parental or relationship issues.
To Schenk, who entered the memorabilia market with $100 in seed money, youth represents the ideal moment to act on a passion for business or non-profit ventures.
"If you're going to do it, now is the time to do it, because if you fail you'll still have a roof over your head," he said. "If you do it as an adult and you fail, you're left with a whole world of issues."