Brian Kearns and his startup company have a problem — he hasn’t been able to reach young people the way he would like.
So on Friday he took the problem to some students in the Blue Springs School District and asked them to solve it. Like true professionals, the students, decked out in business attire, accepted the challenge and came up with several ways that Kearns could expand his company.
He wasn’t the only business owner at the event looking to these students for fresh business solutions.
Four area companies showed up at the district’s administrative office for the Blue Springs MECA Challenge. It’s sponsored by the school district, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the Center for Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Development, or CEED.
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MECA, said co-founder Adam Arredondo, stands for Most Entrepreneurial City in America. He was referring, of course, to Kansas City. Not so strange an idea to many of the 72 students who would break out into 12 groups of six to help a few Kansas City entrepreneurs come up with innovative fixes to business-related puzzles.
The aim of the challenge is to give high school students a peek into the entrepreneurial world of business.
“Most students don’t think they can be a valuable contributor to that world,” Arredondo said. “MECA helps them to see that they can solve real business problems. We are not trying to tell them to become entrepreneurs. But we are telling them to develop and entrepreneurial mindset.”
Marketing and entrepreneurship teachers Kelly Fowler from Blue Springs High School and Andy Mayfield from Blue Springs South were thrilled to see their students huddled together tossing out ideas among their peers from both schools.
“They will have to work with people they don’t know very well. and that’s the way it is in the real world,” Mayfield said. “It’s learning outside the classroom. And it gets them excited about opportunities they might have outside the classroom,” he said.
“They get to see how the little pieces they learned in the classroom come together for them to solve real-world problems,” Fowler said. “They get to answer that question: ‘How will I ever use this?’ and then connect the dots.”
So Kearns stood before his small group and explained that his company, HipHire, is a website that takes information from employers looking for hires and information from job seekers about their skills, availability and what part of town they want to work in. The idea is to pair employer and seeker.
“It is kind of like a Match.com for jobs,” Kearns said.
Only he has not been successful attracting many young people, like the 15 or so sophomores, juniors and seniors who had gathered around a cluster of tables to hear about Kearns’ dilemma.
It didn’t take the students long to see the gap in Kearns’ platform.
“Social media,” said Sierra Walsh, a 15-year-old sophomore at Blue Springs High School. “That is how you reach young people. If you are not on social media, we are not going to find you.”
And she said her group thought it would be a good idea for Kearns to take his site to schools and include some type of program that allows businesses looking for hires to mention whether students from a particular school already work for them.
“Young people want to do what’s popular,” Sierra said. “And they want to be where their friends are.”
Kearns said he liked the suggestions from the students. Whether he implements their ideas or not, he said he’s not sure.
But “I really came here looking for something fresh from them.”