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Website by Schlagle High School students wins entrepreneur grant

By MARÁ ROSE WILLIAMS
The Kansas City Star

An innovative teen website developed by three Kansas City, Kan., F.L. Schlagle High School students got a $5,000 jumpstart last week by winning a top grant in an entrepreneur challenge at McPherson College.

Kenan Meadows, Marcus Sheppard and Joseph Belcher were chosen from 10 finalists vying for prize money to help launch either a nonprofit or commercial venture.

The Schlagle students won for their nonprofit website, KCTeenLink.org, designed to give youths a forum to ask difficult questions about anything from relationships and health to job hunting and fashion.

“This was one of the greatest experiences for me, ever,” said Meadows, 17.

The senior said he was thrilled his team was chosen after hearing some of the “great ideas” other teams had come up with.

“Most kids from my community never get a chance to do something like this,” said Meadows, who is deciding between attending McPherson or Kansas State University to study “something in the health care field.”

McPherson’s first-ever Jump Start Kansas competition challenged all high school students in Kansas to submit ideas. Judges — college faculty and staff as well as entrepreneurial leaders — whittled the list down to five finalists in the commercial category and five nonprofits. Then students presented their ideas in person Wednesday.

Damien Gilbert and Colin Johnson, juniors at Wichita East High, took home the $5,000 commercial prize with their SteelSalvation, a company that would recycle scrap steel into reusable steel water bottles to cut back on the millions of disposable plastic water bottles tossed away every day.

The Schlagle students had been trying to expand their website begun last May. They collaborated with Children’s Mercy Hospital to lend experts. The Kansas Health Foundation also threw in $25,000, along with $5,000 from the Oppenstein Brothers Foundation.

“In our community, we have a lot of kids who are going through a lot, and many of them may not have an adult to talk to or are afraid to ask certain questions,” Meadows said. “With this site, since it is anonymous, no one would know who you are and you could ask anything.”

The site also would provide a forum for teens to exhibit their creative work, including art, literature, music and electronic game designs.

The win also comes with the offer of a $5,000 annual scholarship for each team member who chooses to attend McPherson.

Michael Schneider, McPherson College president, called it “a tough time choosing from among so many good ideas. It was really tight, and there was a lot of discussion as they decided this.”

The eight other finalists also are rewarded with a $1,000 annual scholarship if they attend McPherson.

The challenge is part of the college’s “Freedom to Jump” entrepreneurship initiative, launched in November. For the last two years, McPherson also has offered its students a chance to compete in a global enterprise challenge to find sustainable solutions to help in a foreign country. Last year the winners were flown to Panama and in 2010 to Haiti to put their ideas into effect.

To reach Mará Rose Williams, call 816-234-4419 or send email to mdwilliams@kcstar.com.

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