published Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Launching ideas

Howard students learn keys to start a business

  • photo
    Jonathan Mansfield, center, listens to a pitch from Toriana Williams, 17, unseen, while her classmates Thomas Jones, 17, left, and Ciara Roshell, 17, right, listen on Tuesday. Students at Howard High School participated in Launch, a program aimed at increasing knowledge of entrepreneurship in youths.
    Photo by Jake Daniels.
    enlarge photo

The late Steve Jobs may have changed the way people communicate with his iPod, iPhone and iPad, but a group of seniors at Howard School of Academics and Technology thinks they can change how people carry their Apple devices with a new type of book case they are billing as the "iBag."

"This is a book bag, a briefcase and a purse all in one and it can carry all of your Apple devices and maybe even recharge them while you're walking around," Thomas Jones explained during a weekly entrepreneurship course Tuesday night.

"We want something that is going to be stylish, and I know it can sell because you have thousands of college students walking around with a lot to carry but no easy way to do it," added Ciria Roshell, another Howard senior working on the iBag design.

The proposed iBag, along with other product concepts ranging from a fingerprint-opening lock to a new type of television set, are ideas spurred midway through an eight-week training program in entrepreneurship. A nonprofit group began the course to encourage more business growth in Chattanooga's Southside.

Businessman Hal Bowling started what he calls "Launch" by working with the Bethlehem Center and Howard High to find jobs and spur business startups for students and unemployed residents in the area.

"Our aim is to create better career opportunities for struggling individuals in low-income neighborhoods by connecting them with resources, training and mentors," Bowling said.

He acknowledges that finding jobs and starting businesses is a challenge in low-income areas of Chattanooga, where the jobless rate is often more than triple the U.S. unemployment rate of 9 percent.

In its first year, Launch expects to work with about 75 unemployed people and Howard students to help them find work or create businesses.

Among unemployed Southside residents who completed a four-week jobs program this spring, about 40 percent have found jobs, Bowling said.

Launch added another dimension this fall by expanding an after-school debate program at Howard to also include eight weeks of training in business development. In March, students in the program will pitch their business plans to local investors.

The winning team will get a $2,000 investment from the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund, which is working with the Lamp Post Group and the Co. Lab to aid Bowling' Launch program.

After five weeks of training about revenues, expenses and profits, a dozen Howard students gathered Tuesday night in the school library to dream up ways to market their business ideas.

Jones and his business partners think they can sell their iBag by touting the product as "the bag with swag" and claiming that "storage never looked so good."

But whether the idea ever becomes a profitable business, Jones is confident he is benefiting by the experience.

"I want to major in business administration in college so I think this should be very helpful, whether the product works out or not," he said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340

about Dave Flessner...

Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...

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