Pitt County teens attend academy focused on entrepreneurship

Corey Pulido

Corey Pulido (Photo by Rhett Butler)

Could the next Elon Musk be found in the high schools of Pitt County? If so, East Carolina University and the College of Business’ (COB) Miller School of Entrepreneurship want to introduce these students to the resources available at ECU so they can be the next innovator, entrepreneur and business owner.

That’s one of the goals of the Miller School’s inaugural Summer Innovation Academy, a free and weeklong program where 22 area students spent five days in June learning about entrepreneurship and all that’s involved in helping make an idea into reality.

“(The academy helped) these young entrepreneurs learn how to separate ideas from opportunities, and the value of customer discovery and business creation,” said Dr. Mike Harris, director of the Miller School. “It was inspiring to learn about the young talent in the region.”

Encouraging Entrepreneurs

Nicholas Harvey

Nicholas Harvey (Photo by Emily Ruth Porter)

Academy attendees were taught by organizer Corey Pulido, an instructor in the Miller School, and Eric Dicken, a COB finance instructor. Miller School students served as mentors throughout the academy and answered questions from the attendees.

Attendees were required to come prepared with an idea on the first day of the academy. They devoted time to the ideation process where they looked at whether or not their ideas had any merit. Day two focused on fleshing out and pitching ideas to fellow academy attendees and exercises, such as dodgeball, that taught chosen team captains how to construct a proper team to support their idea development.

“After the dodgeball exercise, students understood the importance of how picking a team with the right skill sets can help them with their goals,” said Pulido.

On day three, students learned about the role marketing plays when it comes to curating an idea. They also toured Greenville SEED@ECU, which offers a flexible collaboration space and support for qualified entrepreneurs and startup companies.

Students learned how to finance new ideas on day four and prepared for the trade show event that took place on the final day of the academy. During the trade show, seven student teams presented their ideas via tabletop poster sessions and pitched those ideas to trade show attendees, which included parents, COB faculty, high school teachers, members of the community, and ECU and COB alumni.

Julianna Surkin and Jenny Surkin

Julianna Surkin and Jenny Surkin (Photo by Emily Ruth Porter)

Cultivating Entrepreneurship

John Ciannamea is the innovator in residence at ECU’s Office of Innovation and Economic Development, oversees SEED@ECU, and attended the trade show event. He also hosted the students during a tour of SEED’s facilities. He says local high school students, along with adults, are invited to use SEED’s facilities because it’s never too early to encourage the entrepreneurial dreams of this area’s future innovators.

“It is important to plant it early because it really is a process,” said Ciannamea. “Like a lot of things, it takes persistence. You don’t get it right the first time.”

Nicholas Harvey III will be a ninth-grader in Kinston High School in the fall. He attended the Summer Innovation Academy because, at this point in his life, Harvey knows he wants to create his own business even though he doesn’t know what that business will look like.

Instructor works with two Summer Innovation Academy attendees

Miller School director Mike Harris, center, works with Summer Innovation Academy attendees Anna Morse, left, and William Finelli, right. (Photo by Rhett Butler)

“This academy will help me going into high school knowing what I need to do, so I can get the classes I need to pursue my opportunities; what I want to do,” said Harvey. “With this (academy), I’ll know what I need to get a business started.”

Julianna Surkin and Jenevieve (Jenny) Surkin will be seniors at Oakwood School in Greenville. Like Harvey, both started looking at entrepreneurship in the eighth grade when they attended a camp that focused on entrepreneurship. Jenny Surkin says the entrepreneurship bug runs in their family; they used to watch Shark Tank together.

So, it’s not surprising she would continue her entrepreneurial journey with the academy.

“I think if I hadn’t known about this (the academy), I would regret not spending my summer not doing this,” said Jenny Surkin. “With this (academy), I am more whole. I have a bit of everything I can pull from.”

group of teens playing dodgeball

Summer Innovation Academy attendees participated in dodgeball to help learn about picking ideal team members. (Photo by Emily Ruth Porter)

“One of our intentions is to use the academy to expose students, at any age, to the innovative programs in the Miller School and across campus,” said Harris. “The entrepreneurial ecosystem available on our campus is vibrant and rich with resources.”

William Finelli, an incoming ECU freshman, comes from a family of Greenville-area entrepreneurs. His whole life, he was pre-dispositioned to the idea of entrepreneurship. After attending the academy, he has a new appreciation for it.

“I kind of always imagined that entrepreneurship allowed you to craft your own success,” said Finelli. Thanks to the academy, he said, “I saw there are opportunities and that people are with you to help you along the way. There are other entrepreneurs that would love to team up in your business ventures.”

“We hope this exposure will allow the students to see the high-quality, local programs that are available,” said Harris. “After all, there’s not too many North Carolina high schoolers who can say they have a named school of entrepreneurship in their backyard.”