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Entrepreneurs give tips to teens

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◆ 5 p.m. June 14

◆ Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago

◆ $500

◆ (773) 938-8701;

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Updated: July 8, 2012 6:54PM

Two of the teenage finalists in a citywide entrepreneurial competition crafted a goat’s milk soap. Another pair dreamed up a tutoring app, and a high school senior pitched a custom skateboard business.

About 50 current and past finalists from the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship program in the Chicago Public Schools — plus 300 members of Chicago’s business community — will get to hear life lessons from stars in local entrepreneurial ranks at next week’s Elevating Entrepreneurship benefit.

A live discussion will feature Morningstar chairman and CEO Joe Mansueto and Grosvenor Capital Management CEO Michael Sacks (both are investors in the Sun-Times parent company, Wrapports).

Mansueto — who also owns Inc. and Fast Company magazines and is the controlling shareholder of TimeOut Chicago — has always had entrepreneurial tendencies. “In college, I sold soda from my dorm room,” he says. “I formed Morningstar as a bootstrap startup in my apartment without venture capital when I was 27.”

His history makes him an ideal judge for the annual competition. “His story really resonates with the students,” says NFTE executive director Christine Poorman. “He’s been a judge for the last four years, and he remembers every student whose business plan he’s been pitched.”

 Sacks joined Grosvenor nearly 21 years ago when the company had six employees; since rising to lead the company in 1994, he has grown the team to 270. Last summer, Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed him vice chair of World Business Chicago, an economic development group. “I think entrepreneurship and leadership are critical skills, whether you’re inside a mature business or launching something entirely new,” Sacks says. “Managers like people who are thoughtful and aggressive and think outside the box, and that embodies what entrepreneurs are.”

NFTE targets students at 30 Chicago high schools in low-income communities. “We take kids who don’t understand how school relates to their lives and teach them why they have to understand science or computer technology to start a business,” Poorman says.

The non-profit operates an annual search for the best business plan; it starts with a group of 1,500 students who get whittled down to 36 semifinalists and then six finalists who receive venture grants. Creators of the top two business plans — this year by Christopher Loehrke (“Signature Skating”) and Aja Beckham and T’erra Williams (“Lip Splash,” a custom lip gloss company) — will travel to New York in October to compete for $10,000 in venture grants.

At next week’s event, about 25 students will showcase their business ideas and offer their products for sale to attendees. “What really excites me is to see our students speaking the same language and interacting with Chicago’s top business people,” Poorman says. “They’ll talk about ‘competitive advantage,’ ‘the economics of one unit,’ ‘return on investment.’ It really gives them a leg up.”

They’ll also have the opportunity to ask questions of the featured entrepreneurs. “I like to talk to kids about the idea that all the cliches you’ve always heard about ‘no shortcuts, hard work and integrity’ are true,” Sacks says. “The closer you can keep that to front of mind, the better off you’ll be.”

The Chicago Sun-Times is the media sponsor of this event.

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