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Local entrepreneurs show high schoolers how it’s done

Freshmen and sophomores taking the Business Principles class soaked up valuable strategies from professionals visiting Tates Creek High School during JA Entrepreneurship Week. Super Soul founder John Meister and marketing director Amanda Hudgins assured students that they, too, can excel even in a crowded field like video gaming. “It’s one industry that’s trying to grow in this area,” Meister said. “You don’t have to be in Silicon Valley. You can start a company here, and there are communities to support you.” “We’re trying to keep tech jobs local,” Hudgins added.

Junior Achievement of The Bluegrass (JA) lined up several business leaders to share their inspirations, challenges, and success stories with students at Tates Creek, Lafayette, and Paul Laurence Dunbar high schools. The group also included Warren Nash, director of the Kentucky Innovation Network, and founders Shylo Shepherd of Purrody Games, Leonard Wedderburn of Power on Games, and Tim Knowlton of Mildmojo Games. They helped students begin to see how through dedication to a dream and continued hard work, they can make their own opportunities. “We are so grateful to these local entrepreneurs for offering their time and talent in the classroom. We are excited for our students to meet them personally and understand what qualities are necessary to become a successful entrepreneur,” said JA President Lynn Hudgins.

Four-year-old Super Soul is among several video gaming studios that formed a local nonprofit called RunJumpDev. They meet regularly to try out each other’s ideas and share feedback on everything from gaming technology and design, artwork and sound quality, to team-management approaches. “Marketing and prototyping and getting ideas out there applies to any company,” Meister noted. While Super Soul mainly develops educational games for the University of Kentucky and KET, it also offers products for PlayStation4 and Xbox 360.

At Tates Creek, Meister led the students through an abbreviated “game jam” in which small groups brainstormed how to develop an idea into a viable product. They had to keep in mind the genre, storyline and characters, game mechanics, platform, money-making options, and their target audience. A spokesman from each group then had two minutes to pitch their proposal.

Ninth-grader Sam Newman’s group came up with a game called Corporation Capitalist, which focused on adults creating their own business. “It would teach you real-world skills if you were actually going into business. It would be a good tool for schools, too,” he explained. Sam thought the 15-minute version of a game jam weekend was an effective way to test an idea and see not only if a video game made sense but also if it was fun. “This can work for marketing any product or service – just tweak it a little bit,” he said. Tates Creek teacher Eric Jackson, who plans to use JA curriculum in his Business Principles class this spring, welcomed the entrepreneurs’ contribution. “That real-world perspective brings that missing piece to the class. That’s why I like JA,” said Jackson, who volunteered with JA while in banking before moving on to a second career in education.

Jackson also thinks his students can meet Super Soul’s entrepreneurial challenge. “They are capable of coming up with an idea, developing it, and seeing it through,” he said. “Hopefully they can take those ideas and pursue them. I can see some of these games coming to life.”

Global Entrepreneurship Week