Recently, I was invited to present at a business conference for Carmel High School DECA.  (DECA is a global, chapter organization that prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the world.)  Upon arrival, I was told it was their “1st annual” Lead Conference where focus was being placed on Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Application, Development.
I work with adults considering business ownership every day, so working with young people can be a refreshing change of pace.  Yet, I was prepared – teenagers seldom engage in conversation and ask few questions.  Since it was the “1st annual,” I was only feeling somewhat optimistic when I arrived – little did I know all the things I would learn from that LEAD Conference.

1. Don’t underestimate today’s students’ desire to learn.

Surprisingly, almost 200 DECA members and advisors were in attendance from around the state for this inaugural event.  Rarely do you see so many young people actively engaged in discussions on trending business ideas, personal career growth, and business plan development.  Afterwards, presenters discussed how impressed they were with the completely student-driven conference and how much open dialogue they were able to have with students.  These teenagers were actively engaged on a Saturday.

2. Communal concerns are woven into students’ concerns.

I included a picture of the Sky Farm that sits on top of downtown Indianapolis’ public hospital, Eskenazi Health, in my presentation.  As I described the donated 5,000 sq. ft. growing space and how it was open to patients, and the community, as a space to learn how produce grows and how to prepare fresh produce, I could feel the excitement in the room as the students’ eyes widened.  I shared that the produce grown at the Sky Farm is integrated into the menus at the two hospital restaurants.  Students almost stopped the workshop wanting to know details:  what is the cost of the program, could other individuals or companies sponsor the program, was this program underwritten by a “golden parachute” donor, etc.  I left the session with a renewed faith in the future generation.

3. Everyone has something to teach – and it’s genuinely fulfilling.

Our community has professionals and business leaders willing to contribute their time and talent to a worthy cause.  In this instance, several local business professionals brought their unique business perspectives to the conference sessions.  Doug Boehme, ISBDC Central Region Director, agreed to participate without hesitation.  He is a professional who is always willing to work with an entrepreneur group or meet with an individual wanting to start their own business.

Also, hats off to Susan Buterbaugh, Account Executive with Media General Indianapolis, who presented for the first time to students.  Her session on media was so engaging that Q&A went well into the following session.  Susan is a great example of someone who underestimates the impact that she can make on students simply by introducing them to her expertise.  Her work at WISH-TV is exciting and trending.  Susan was also surprised by how much she enjoyed the experience of working with the students.  In this world of apathy, instilling ideas that empower others can be such a fulling endeavor.  This is something I’ve learned to appreciate over time as I teach business ownership fundamentals to new entrepreneurs.

4. An inspired educator can make all the difference.

The overall success of the Chapter rests with the educator.  The impact that Chard Reid, Carmel DECA Advisor, and his DECA Chapter are making on high school students statewide is significant.  The LEAD Conference is the only statewide DECA entrepreneurship program scheduled for the year.  The Carmel DECA Chapter boast many awards including 19 of the Top 10 Student Finalists at the International Competition.  Under his direction, Carmel DECA has grown from 150 to over 600 students in less than two years making Carmel DECA the 6th largest Chapter in the world.

As a follow-up, that “1st annual” business conference that I presented to in October, the LEAD Conference concept is going to DECA Competition this February.  Success does follow success.  The LEAD Conference is now part of an encompassing entrepreneurship promotion plan.  And, Carmel DECA has recently announced that the 2nd Annual LEAD Conference is scheduled for November 2016.

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