Startup Week 2019: King Tech jumpstarts entrepreneurship

  • Kings Kustomz is well on its way to learning how to launch a startup as part of the King Tech Entrepreneurship and Enterprise class. (Photo/Courtesy/King Tech)

“It sucks when the money isn’t there and you need it to be.” 

Any entrepreneur waiting for that critical check knows exactly what Kaleb Babcock is talking about. Babcock is lucky though; Kings Kustomz got the money and he and his partners are well on their way to learning how to launch their own startup as part of the King Tech Entrepreneurship and Enterprise class. 

Led by instructor Stacy Miller, the class ventures include businesses selling tye-dye apparel, keychains, candles, dog treats, facial creams and upcycled shopping bags. Once the students form their teams, they go through similar steps familiar to other startups, including seeking investment.

As part of the curriculum, well practiced but nervous students present their businesses to adult experts who drill into their ideas, their financial models, and their assumptions. Along with feedback, student teams are given an investment of between $50 to $100, a loan they must repay before receiving any profit.

According to Miller, the variety of businesses highlights the variety of backgrounds students bring to the class. 

“Students come with fantastic skills from other classes,” Miller said. “We have filmmakers, artists, welders, vet students and cosmetology, and each brings in a perspective from the work they’ve already completed in another industry.” 

The hands-on experience required in the Entrepreneurship and Enterprise class is invaluable and provides an entryway for business ownership many, prior to the class, had not considered before.

Although students are fresh, full of passion and eager to throw themselves into things, the open and collaborative format can be uncomfortable compared to a more common straightforward formula for class success. Still, like most entrepreneurs, Miller’s 17- and 18-year-old students have a natural drive to want to do things differently and are.

“Natural rebels who buck against rules,” Miller said. 

Like their adult peers, it can take some pivots before they find their footing and figure out what it will take to be successful. 

Along the way, they often surprise themselves and others by showcasing skills and capabilities unrecognized elsewhere. It is a big achievement and also important for those interested in seeding future startups in the American economy. According to a U.S. Census report on entrepreneurship, “business startups play critical roles in innovation, job creation, and productivity dynamics.”

For more people to consider entrepreneurship as a viable career option, it needs to be endorsed as a valuable contributor to job creation, something that isn’t happening now.

Despite the veneration of many famous entrepreneurs, the rate of entrepreneurship is actually down and currently comprises only 7 to 8% of the economy, a big shift from the 1980s when it was 12 to 13 percent.

Encouraging students to take an early leap into entrepreneurship is one solution. As many entrepreneurs will tell you, genuine understanding occurs when running a business, not when getting an MBA. Furthermore, hands-on learning is recommended for all students to become more job-ready in the future. 

Real-world learning is an essential part of the Entrepreneurship and Enterprise class and instills the students with skills and confidence to embark on future business ownership. The class becomes a safe place for students to learn the many twists and turns to being a successful entrepreneur and the accompanying difficult education resulting from failure.

To Dye For, a business providing tye-dye socks, baby booties and scrunchies, participated in King Tech's Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Class (Photo/Courtesy/Jacqueline Summers)

To Dye For, a business providing tye-dye socks, baby booties and scrunchies, learned poor quality socks didn’t take the dye and had to spend precious resources on new ones.

SRIBLEZ stayed committed to getting an actual toy vending machine to dispense their stickers, but almost missed a critical window for the holiday bazaar. Now that’s here, it is making money when the other students’ businesses aren’t open. A seat-of-the-pants decision that has paid off.

As the students have now learned, a successful startup can take a few attempts along with the right team and means staying networked with the creative, active community members committed to starting new businesses.

To make sure students stay connected, Miller has integrated her students into the Alaskan entrepreneurial ecosystem and into Alaska Startup Week. Bag-Boozled, the upcycled bag business was invited to have a booth at the Visit Anchorage Tradeshow and both Bag-Boozled and SRIBLEZ, a sticker company, will be part of the Anchorage Startup Weekend pitches.

Students have customized Startup Week swag for sale and, as part of Global Entrepreneur Week, the Entrepreneurship and Enterprise class will host an event with a King Career Center and University of Alaska Anchorage graduate who has built a computer business in Mexico and in Anchorage. Closer to home, Entrepreneurship and Enterprise students and the Young Alaskan Solopreneurs will have a Student Tradeshow to close out their participation in Alaska Startup Week.

Involving young adults in entrepreneurship early is important. Entrepreneur Magazine author Ankur Jain points out, “entrepreneurship is the one place where some of the youngest people are at the top of the food chain.

Why? Because young entrepreneurs’ inexperience is their greatest asset. They can come into an industry and ask questions about things that, for everyone else, have become unquestioned assumptions.”

Not all of the Entrepreneurship and Enterprise students are sure they want to start their own businesses after the class is over, but many do. The Alaskan entrepreneurial ecosystem is fortunate they are willing to take on the challenge. We need them: their viewpoints, industry, and visions will lead us toward an exciting future.

Jacqueline Summers is a connector and catalyst in the Alaska Entrepreneur Ecosystem, a Program Specialist at the UAA Business Enterprise Institute, an owner of Paxaro Solutions, and the proud mother of Malin and Shay Shumaker. Jacqueline is a co-founder of Health TIE, an Alaska-based innovation hub encouraging start-ups and innovative entrepreneurs to tackle “wicked problems” specific to health and human services and is also a member of the Fungi Alliance, a joint venture exploring the use of fungi for environmental bioremediation in northern regions.

Updated: 
11/20/2019 - 9:00am

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