Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, but owning a business has its perks. At least that’s what Ohio State student Samir Amrania, a second-year in biology, and his friend Zach Schwartz, a second-year at Columbia University, think.
The two recently started a program to help high school students with their business startups. Called the LightHouse Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program, it offers an array of services to northeast Ohio students with plans to break into business.
“LightHouse Ohio is an entrepreneurial accelerator and incubator specifically designed for high school students,” Amrania said. “As an accelerator, we give them funding, and as an incubator, we give them space where they can grow their company.”
The free six-week summer program offers a curriculum that teaches students about starting and managing a business, he said. LightHouse partnered with LaunchHouse, a Shaker Heights-based accelerator and incubator for entrepreneurs’ startups, to create LEAP.
Amrania and Schwartz came up with the idea for LightHouse during their senior year at Solon High School in 2012, Schwartz said. LaunchHouse didn’t have programs in place for students and the concept of LightHouse was born.
“No one (was) doing that at the high school level,” he said.
The two co-founders provide creative vision and leadership for participants. Their roles helped to amass a network of businesses for students to visit and entrepreneurs to act as mentors. LEAP has come a long way since its inception, Schwartz said.
“In the beginning, it was just me and Samir working out of a library. We did everything,” Schwartz said.
Now, the group takes field trips to meet with local entrepreneurs and speaks at schools about the opportunities LightHouse provides, Schwartz said.
The program was loosely based off of services LaunchHouse provided, Amrania said, but there are differences when catering to a younger audience.
“It’s really designed for high schoolers. We do things that they tend to pick up quickly and excel at,” he said, adding that those things typically include digital production and social media marketing.
LEAP provides its student participants with mentoring, workspace and funding with the goal of helping startups succeed and grow, he said. This past summer, LEAP had 19 students.
“It was the first ever high school accelerator in the nation,” Schwartz said.
Amrania said the Arminius Foundation, which is based in Shaker Heights and supports education and academic research programs, gave $250,000 for this summer’s LEAP, though there were other donations as well. He said each team that participates gets $600 and each individual student receives a $250 stipend.
Jacob Roscoe, a junior at Solon High School, participated in LEAP this summer. Roscoe owns his own clothing company called Vexum Supply, Amrania said. The business focuses on alternative clothing geared toward skateboarders and snowboarders.
“He got to expand his business through the program,” Amrania said. “He’s been able to bring on employees, whereas before he joined LEAP he was doing everything himself.”
Vexum is now gearing up to release its fall and winter lines, Roscoe said.
“Ever since I started the LEAP program, it’s just really helped me excel,” Roscoe said. He attributes techniques he learned through LEAP such as website creation, social media campaigning and networking to Vexum’s success.
In August, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown released a video statement recognizing the work of LEAP.
“The LightHouse Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program equips some of the most talented students in northeast Ohio with the tools needed to transform a good idea into the next great small business,” Brown said.
Schwartz said he appreciated the recognition.
“It was awesome to see,” he said.
To Schwartz, Brown’s statement validated the work and progress of the program. LEAP plans on continuing to offer an avenue for high school students to learn and explore with ambition to grow.
“We hope that it can be franchised and brought to other areas of Ohio and possibly the Midwest,” Amrania said. Many adult accelerators are already in place throughout the region, but Amrania sees potential for additional high school and university programs.
“We are looking to eventually broach into college-level entrepreneurs,” Amrania said. By working with OSU, Amrania wants to help implement a database called Venture Highway. Although the collaboration is still in development, the resource would offer a collection of online entrepreneurial courses.