KC's booming start-up industry could be answer to high schoolers - KCTV5 News

KC's booming start-up industry could be answer to high schoolers' summer jobs

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Just like pairing a good sweater with the right pants, small businesses like Lulu's Boutique, a thrift or consignment shop on Johnson Drive, needed a good partner to help it compete with online shopping.

"The last two years have been hard for any retail stores to move traffic because everyone's buying online. So we're giving her online presence," said Jennifer Taylor, owner of The Swapping Company.

Taylor's startup created a mobile app for mom and pop consignment stores looking for virtual platforms to boost sales.

For Lulu's, its high-end labels sell better with the online audience than its brick and mortar.

"She can send it out to Amazon, eBay, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Etsy. Within two minutes. Increase her exposure to sales," Taylor said.

But with a growing client base, Taylor can't be in all stores at once. Her need for a social media savvy team had her turning to CEED, which stands for Center of Entrpreneurial Ecosystem Development, a resource for Kansas City startups.

"Students aren't finding as many summer internships as they have in the past. We believe that that's because it's starting at a higher level. So college graduates aren't finding the jobs they need so they're willing to take lower positions and that's bumping everybody down," CEED co-founder Abby Tillman said.

That's why she created the MECA challenge, a business competition where startups pose real world problems and students compete to solve them. For Taylor, the problem was recruitment.

Gressi Lopez, 16, solved The Swapping Company's problem so quickly that he landed his first paid internship.

"If it hadn't been for me being involved in a business activity like MECA, I wouldn't have heard of an internship like this," Lopez said.

Born in the digital age, Lopez turned Taylor's eye to the high school workforce. He showed Taylor that teens could be the most digitally efficient workers in the community, willing to work more for experience than pay.

"They were outperforming anybody else on my team. They uploaded 30 items within an hour and a half for the first time during training," Taylor explained.

The introduction between industry and education gives entrepreneurs a budget-friendly workforce and provides students like Lopez valuable career training.

Tillman, a daughter of educators, shared her parents' passion. Though she's one of the emerging entrepreneurial rock stars in Kansas City's so-called Startup Village, connecting to students inspired her to lead the student engagement project at CEED.

"Students bring an entirely new perspective to problems that they wouldn't necessarily get from a contractor or someone who has been in the industry a very long time," Tillman said.

It's a community-wide, multi-layered approach to business. From CEED, to local businesses using startups supported by CEED, schools are now joining in on the entrepreneurial spirit.

Lopez said his internship has opened his eyes to the world of entrepreneurship, fashion and sales.

"This is definitely helping me broaden my perspective on what I want to do," Lopez said.

CEED will be organizing more MECA challenges in the Fall.

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