E CITY offers high schoolers lessons in entrepreneurship that pay dividends

Entrepreneurship isn’t something that is learned through lectures and discussion; it’s learning by doing — and the younger it’s learned, the better. That’s the mantra of E CITY (Entrepreneurship: Connecting, Inspiring and Teaching Youth), a national program hosted here by Youth Opportunities Unlimited that is for at-risk high school students.

“E CITY not only talks about entrepreneurship but it helps teens start a business,” says Carol Rivchun, president of Y.O.U., which empowers youth to succeed in school, in the workplace and in life through several programs. E CITY and Youth Summer Employment Program are its flagship offerings and more than 5,000 students were a part of Y.O.U. last year.

“In E CITY, we are trying to have teens start their own businesses and get experience from it. We find that about 85 percent of the teens in the program complete their business plan. But what we really care about — it is wonderful if they start a business — is we want the teens to gain business skills from this.”

Financial literacy and understanding thus are key objectives of E CITY and to determine if students are reaching those goals, the students take pretests and post-tests.

“We strive for at least a 20 percent increase in knowledge and financial literacy from the pre-test to the post-test. So that means if a student starts the program already knowing a lot, the student will see a 20 percent increase. One who starts knowing very little may increase much more, but on average, there is a 20 percent increase from pretest to post-test.”

Motivation a factor

Along with the experience, the programs offer a promise. If the student stays with the program, there will be a job at the end, Rivchun says. The student is motivated to stay in the program and is also developing employability skills.

E CITY is targeting four high schools in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District — John Adams, John F. Kennedy, Lincoln-West and Glenville. In addition, the program is at Shaw High School in East Cleveland, charter school Horizon Science Academy in Cleveland and Thomas W. Harvey High School in Painesville.

“From those schools, we have at least 15 businesses that have been started last year that are still going on,” Rivchun says. “Once a student has started a business, we connect them with other resources in the community to help them to grow the business, whether it is SBA, or COSE or LaunchHouse or JumpStart.

“The purpose of E CITY is to teach entrepreneurship. But the purpose of all Y.O.U. programs is to connect youth with employment and continuing education, whether that is college, licensing, starting your own business — whatever.”

YOUhandshakeEach year in conjunction with EY, E CITY holds a Young Entrepreneur of the Year Competition. The top E CITY students present their business plans to win cash prizes for their businesses and scholarships. This year’s event will take place May 16.

Last year, Harvey High School student Ryan Hyde won the top prize for his company called Ignited Innovations. Hyde created an environmentally-safe alternative to a fire pit using burner fuel gel and a brass casing in concrete.

Support makes it happen

The success of E CITY and Y.O.U. is due to many volunteers and support from the community, Rivchun says.

“We have many entrepreneurs and other entrepreneurial type people who are very interested in volunteering for E CITY because they believe in the concept,” she says, noting that Paul Moss, CEO of Moss Corp. LLC, is a big fan of E CITY as is Sanjay Garg, chief of the Intelligent Control and Autonomy Branch at NASA Glenn Research Center.

Corporate supporters include such names as Eaton Corp., Wal-Mart, T.J. Maxx, the Cleveland Clinic and other organizations and foundations as well as individuals.

“The reason they do this is because there are very few programs that help teenagers access the world of work,” Rivchun says. “There is a huge skills gap. We need to help the teens target those areas where the future good jobs are — the ones that provide a living wage or better. So that’s why there is a need for an organization like this.

“A lot of businesses would like to help but they don’t know what they can do. What they could do is volunteer for Y.O.U. They could make a donation that would help us, help teens or they could offer a summer job.”

How to reach: E CITY and Youth Opportunities Unlimited, (216) 566-5445 or www.youthopportunities.org


How to improve your odds to reach business success

Entrepreneurship remains alive and well in America with thousands of people starting new businesses each year. But the success of those businesses is another matter. About half will fail in their first five years, according to Gallup.

So why do some new businesses go belly up after a short existence while others prosper?

Often it all comes down to the qualifications of the person who started the business. Anyone can start a business because no real qualifications are required to do that. But not everyone is qualified to run a business once it’s off the ground and that’s a huge factor in why so many fail.

There are five essential traits that every entrepreneur needs to improve the odds of business success:

  • Discipline. It’s important to be disciplined within yourself to help move your organization forward and to produce good leadership decisions within a managerial team. An entrepreneur who is disciplined understands that “they don’t know what they don’t know. This self-knowledge makes it clear how the entrepreneur’s shortcomings may be affecting his or her company, and so helps the entrepreneur make better decisions for the long run. This entrepreneur also understands that, for the business to succeed in the long term, a transition must occur from the business being about “me” as its entrepreneur/CEO, to being about the overall needs of the company.
  • Leadership. To help a business succeed, it’s important that the entrepreneur understands that leadership within a company entails knowing your responsibilities and role and knowing when to share or even delegate responsibility.
  • Self-awareness. In some cases, the person who created the company may not be CEO material and needs to understand that and find someone else to fill that role. You have to take into consideration your own needs and desires and the needs and desires of the company. It’s about the self-awareness journey through which you evaluate your skills and interests in each key aspect of managing a growth company.
  • Understanding issues and challenges. Within any company’s life cycle, numerous issues and challenges may arise. To lead a successful business, the entrepreneur needs to understand and acknowledge that four issues in particular may pose a challenge to his or her efforts to become the Qualified Entrepreneur necessary for success. Those issues areinsistence on autonomy; unwillingness to build structure, cultivate expertise or delegate; boredom; and failure to engage in self-examination.
  • Self-assessment. Nelson says it’s a bit ironic that entrepreneurs who are good at holding others accountable for their performances don’t take time to gauge how well they are doing themselves. It’s important for the success of your business that you be able to do self-performance reviews.

Randy H. Nelson runs Gold Dolphins LLC, a coaching and consulting firm to help entrepreneurial leaders and CEOs achieve their maximum potential. He is the author of “The Second Decision — The Qualified Entrepreneur.” Visit www.randyhnelson.com for information.

There are many doors to Northeast Ohio’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

If one event ever highlighted the fact that there is an ever-increasing groundswell of entrepreneurial spirit in our region it’s Startup Scaleup 2015.

JumpStart and its network partners teamed up with the Gordon Square Arts District to stage the new event. The goal of Startup Scaleup was to put our collaborative entrepreneurial services model on display by mustering as many advisers as possible, then inviting entrepreneurs and small business owners to engage with the entrepreneurial ecosystem we have all worked so hard to grow.

Sidewalk to Stage

Of the day’s many events, the Sidewalk to Stage Pitch Contest (for which I served as a judge), had another very specific goal — to reach out to entrepreneurs not currently connected to our ecosystem and offer them a chance to literally take their big idea from the sidewalk to the main stage of the Capitol Theatre in Gordon Square.

It was a noble and somewhat novel idea. That said, the contestants were not recruited or screened in advance so we had no idea who would show up, and there were no guarantees that any of their ideas would be compelling.

Fortunately, our trust in the many entrepreneurs who call Northeast Ohio home was more than warranted. In less than an hour, we received more than 80 applications for the pitch competition — a broad spectrum of ideas ranging from tech startups to established businesses looking to scale to new initiatives focused on core city social impact.

Six finalists were selected and three winners were awarded $5,000 each, but there was an even bigger winner — Northeast Ohio.

These entrepreneurs showed a ton of conviction and courage by standing in front of a packed theater for the purpose of having their idea critiqued. This reinforces a fundamental point I try to remember every day — what we do to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Northeast Ohio would not be possible without the strong drive, healthy churn and contagious energy of entrepreneurs and small business owners who are fighting to turn their big ideas into reality.

An inner spirit

Together, entrepreneurial support organizations, accelerators, incubators, resource providers, investors and advisers represent an infrastructure to help entrepreneurs succeed; but we cannot create the entrepreneurial spirit that drives them — that comes from within.

We all know this fundamentally, but the Sidewalk to Stage competition served as a refreshing reminder for everyone in attendance.

So if you are an aspiring entrepreneur, or know someone who is, keep in mind that there are many doors to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Northeast Ohio. If JumpStart or any one of our collaborators is not the best fit for a particular entrepreneur, we will do our best to refer entrepreneurs to other resources better suited to their needs. The goal, as always, is to channel the passion of the entrepreneur and provide the best advice and resources possible to help them realize success.

Jerry Frantz manages the team that provides JumpStart’s portfolio companies with guidance and resources to help them grow rapidly. [email protected] or www.jumpstartinc.org

Grow the city garden – Moving up the entrepreneurial ladder takes innovative thinking

Not long ago my heart sank when I read that the Pittsburgh metropolitan area ranked 48th among the 50 top cities in Entrepreneur magazine’s list of the best cities for entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship is a Pittsburgh tradition and the life-blood of our future growth. So how can we move up the entrepreneurial ladder?

Water the acorns

Because venture capital firms can only invest in companies with addressable markets exceeding $500 million, they usually don’t make bets on small startups.

Seed money for these companies must come from high net-worth individuals in the private sector, sometimes called “angels.” Places like Palo Alto, Calif., Boston, Mass., Raleigh, N.C. and Austin, Texas, have become technology hotbeds.

Why? Because young tech-company founders, whose companies have grown into mighty financial oaks, showered startup capital on acorns that had fallen nearby — folks with good ideas.

In Pittsburgh, we need to create an environment where there are incentives for successful local entrepreneurs to reinvest their personal wealth in local startups. A nice complement to our state’s venture capital program would be tax breaks for angel investors who deploy capital intrastate for startups or invest in venture capital firms based within state lines.

Teach your children well

Entrepreneurial education on a high school, collegiate and executive seminar basis is a must. Every major university in our region has entrepreneurial education programs. Many are taught on a graduate and undergraduate level. Organizations such as the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship help high schools, often in low-income districts, to provide classes in business, finance and technology.

Why couldn’t the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania create a program such as the Job Training Partnership Act to provide tuition dollars for this type of education for adult entrepreneurs? Why can’t an introduction to entrepreneurship be part of a life skills curriculum that is mandated for high schools across the state? 

Our gang of several

The Group of Eight (G8) is an international association that represents 65 percent of the world’s economy and includes the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United Kingdom. The leaders of these countries get together every year to find ways that they can work together to better our global economy.

Could we bring together the leaders of local economic development agencies to form a group that functions in a regional way, much the same as the international version?

What if the state gave this local group of leaders a chunk of its venture capital program dollars, with the proviso that the group hires a staff of experienced venture capitalists to administer the fund? After all, members do have day jobs running their own organizations. The profits of this venture fund would then be redeployed regionally in the form of economic development grants. 

Green cards with diplomas

You know how we beat China and India in the world economy, technology and talent? We should take the advice of a highly successful local venture capitalist. The diploma any foreign student receives from a local college should have a green card stapled to it.

How about we create a local bureau of immigration lawyers that provides free legal service to foreign kids coming out of local schools? If we get them a green card, they must commit to living in the region for another five years.


Chris Allison is the former CEO of Tollgrade Communications Inc. where he spent 16 years taking the telecomm venture from tech startup to publicly-traded company with a market capitalization of $2 billion. Allison now devotes his time to shaping future business leaders as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Allegheny College, where he teaches entrepreneurship and managerial economics. He is the author of “You’ll Manage: Lessons Learned from a Former CEO.” For more information, visit chrisallison.biz. 

LinkedIn:  http://linkd.in/1bCefTw




How Brandon Cruz and Clint Jones wanted to make GoHealth an innovation in the health care industry

Brandon Cruz, president, CTO

Brandon Cruz, president and CTO, GoHealth

Clint Jones, CEO, GoHealth

Clint Jones, CEO, GoHealth

Private Equity/Venture Capital Backed


When they first got into the health insurance business, neither Brandon Cruz nor Clint Jones had much knowledge about the industry, except that there had to be a better way to utilize the Internet to help both the health insurance companies and the individual consumer.

This lack of familiarity allowed them to “think outside the box” and be innovators in the industry. Cruz, the president and chief technology officer, and Jones, CEO, founded GoHealth in 2001.

With their energy and skills to understand, challenge and help reshape a complex market for health insurance, these entrepreneurs stood apart from others.

While Cruz and Jones were establishing ways to compare insurance coverage over the Internet, adding sophistication such as an online quoting and customer relationship management solutions for agents, a dramatic event occurred — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was approved. The disruption and uncertainty the PPACA brought caused upheaval among many insurance businesses, but not GoHealth.

Recognizing the potential arising, Cruz and Jones moved their business into an online/technology health insurance distribution platform for consumers, agents and carriers.

They believe the last five years has clearly validated their strategy, and even though this will continue to change over time, the key is execution — and they are focused on doing that.

While they have become more “corporate” in the last 18 months, Cruz and Jones have not lost their entrepreneurial drive. The pair has not shied away from moving forward amid uncertainty; they know what they do well and have leveraged the right people to make strategic moves.

Almost all the major health insurance carriers and numerous large corporations have recognized GoHealth’s value proposition.

Always leaders in innovation with technology, they continue to work hard to position themselves to be on the forefront in terms of technology when it comes to assisting their clients. Few companies can offer customers end-to-end service as GoHealth can.

How to reach: GoHealth, www.gohealthinsurance.com