Author, Thomas J. Meyer
Most mornings you will find me at the gym by 5am. This is definitely not the peak time for my fitness center, as most people prefer to be sleeping before the sun comes up. With fewer people there, it’s typically quieter, so you really notice when there is any kind of conversation. Last winter, I took note of two young men working out and talking each morning. It’s not often that you see young people start their day exercising, especially that early, so naturally I was intrigued. Over some time, I heard bits from their daily conversations, and I determined the older of the two had started a business. As a financing professional, I was fascinated that one of them was an entrepreneur!
One day, they engaged in speaking to me. Both were cordial, welcoming, and engaging in conversation with great eye contact (something that can be challenging for youth when speaking to adults). I learned their names were Tony and Ben and that they were brothers. Tony was 25, Ben was 16 and he attended High School in the same town where I grew up. That town is 30 minutes away from this fitness center, and it turned out they were driving there early every day to be back in time for Ben to start school, and for Tony to focus on his business. Pretty remarkable given their young ages.
It also turned out that Tony had been an entrepreneur since his days at Palatine High School. In asking about his business, He told me that he and his business partner, Drake Roberts, were enrolled in the Incubator Program during their senior year back in 2015-2016. They created the idea for their business in that program, a reusable deodorizer for use in lockers and gym bags. Complete with a 3D printed model, their invention went on to be the regional winner, awarding them a $25,000 grant to pursue their business idea. Creation out of thin air, now that is an entrepreneur.
With their Incubator Program success, Tony, and Drake’s plans of attending Big 10 colleges were pleasantly sidetracked by their entrepreneurial spirit and passion, so they could focus on launching their business with the funds from winning the regional Incubator Program competition. Eventually, they realized higher education was important, so they enrolled in Harper College and later each earned a bachelor’s degree from DePaul University.
A few years after college graduation, they were able to start selling and shipping their trademarked and patented product, DeoBlock. With stellar feedback from the NFL, NBA, various universities, and other athletes, they have been on the market for a few years and are already designing an upgraded 2.0 version based on feedback. Any parent of an athlete understands the stench from uniforms, equipment, and duffle bags/backpacks, and most deodorizing products merely mask smells, unlike DeoBlock which actually kills the germs creating the awful stink.
Tony and Drake credit the help and feedback from their high school, community, other entrepreneurs, customers, and more with supporting and helping bring this dream to life. Upon getting to know this story, it occurred to me, as a business community it is our responsibility to help young people achieve their dreams of business ownership. Entrepreneurship is a long, but rewarding, journey and it requires time, talent, financial resources, and community support to create success. If I hadn’t taken note of these brothers during my early morning work outs, I would have missed out on discovering the incredible story of DeoBlock and how I could offer guidance and resources for these young entrepreneurs.
In fact, I’m certain the younger brother, Ben, is destined to become an entrepreneur, given his personality and wide eyed enthusiasm during our conversation about Tony’s business. So, I wondered, how can we provide budding young people coaching along the way to help the next generation of entrepreneurs in attaining their dreams of owning a business? The answers are simple:
- Anywhere Networking: The idea that networking only occurs at specific events or in a business setting is short sighted. This story highlights the fact that networking happens every day and everywhere, with opportunities to meet, learn and add value in any interaction. Be aware and be ready to ask, learn, and advise.
- Inspire Everywhere: Wherever we are, there is inspiration and the possibility to inspire. Pay attention and connect with those in your community to add value. Coach and guide young people to support their ideas, offering knowledge and resources to make their dreams a potential reality.
- Give to Others: While volunteering and charity are amazing ways to give to others, they’re not the only ways. Helping someone with their business helps them create their dreams, and it is truly a ripple effect. That extends beyond your interaction Entrepreneurs provide products, services, employment, inspiration, opportunities, and value to their communities.
- Share the Story: Talk (or write) about those you are guiding and coaching. Share their story and business information any way you can, including word of mouth, referrals, social media, networking groups, introductions to clients/contacts, and more. You have the power to help a business grow and thrive.
This experience was truly gratifying. I never imagined I would discover an amazing, young entrepreneur while working out at 5am, and that it would alter my perspective about networking. I am now always ready for an opportunity to meet and help an entrepreneur, especially those who are still developing and might need business coaching and extra support. Think about it, who do you know in your community, school, neighborhood, or church with the same passion as Tony? Who can you help with your experience, skills, knowledge, of resources? Not only is providing assistance is rewarding, but you might be surprised what can learn from a high school entrepreneur.
Thomas J. Meyer has a passion for helping new and existing business owners fulfil their dreams in entrepreneurship. He has been financing small to mid-sized businesses for the last 25 years with over $600 million in funding. He is currently the Executive Vice President and Director of SBA Lending at Centrust Bank centrustbank.com. He is also the current President of MBBI, mbbi.org and has created a prequalification website to allow businesses to determine their ability to finance their projects at sbaquickloan.com. He can be reached at email@example.com or 847-899-3793.