Cambridge Company Empowers Young Entrepreneurs
By Monica Stack
The Cambridge Innovation Center is a modern work environment designed for innovation. Its communal work spaces and quirky conference rooms are products of the Center’s dedication to collaboration.
It’s a fitting place for Frank Pobutkiewicz, whose business is running entrepreneurship programs for aspiring business owners. The 26-year-old Boston University graduate and self described “risktaker” is the founder of Whiteboard Youth Ventures, an education company that trains and fosters teenage entrepreneurs.
And there appears to be a need for his services. Across the country, the number of young entrepreneurs is on the rise, but their success rate is much less than that of startups with founders over the age of 45, according to statistics from Enterprise Nation, Duedil, and the Kauffman Ewing Institute. A lack of experience stifles their potential and inhibits their creativity. Whiteboard Youth Ventures aims to break down the experience barrier by matching each student with an accomplished mentor.
The curriculum for the company’s three linked programs, the Young Entrepreneurship Challenge, Founder’s Academy, and the Launch Program, “is based around this model of mentorship,” said Pobutkiewicz. “Mentors are not parents, not teachers, not friends–we’re some combination of that.”
The mentors, most of whom have experience starting a company, guide the students, aged 15-19, through the ups and downs of the startup process. During the Young Entrepreneurship program, the students learn the basics of entrepreneurship and development of a company. At Founder’s Academy, they learn about the execution of a startup. As part of the 12-week Launch program, participants develop and execute a business plan. Tuition from the first two courses allows the companies formed during the third to launch their business with no upfront costs. If successful, the companies are expected to pay back a portion of the service fees.
This training has served Adam Lorenz-Kruk, 18-year-old graduate of Whiteboard, well. Lorenz-Kruk and Pobutkiewicz first met at a pitch competition at which the former was a competitor and the latter was a judge. Lorenz-Kruk’s company, Blanc LLC, presented “a wrist worn device that helped students and sleep deprived individuals stay awake during the day,” said Lorenz-Kruk. Blanc LLC won the competition, and Pobutkiewicz invited the owners to learn about his new initiative, the Launch program.
“Entering the Whiteboard Launch program was genuinely the best decision I have ever made,” Lorenz-Kruk said. Whiteboard provided the company, run by 5 teenagers, with a “plethora of resources,” including legal and financial guidance free of charge.
In the summer of 2014, the group launched on Kickstarter with the goal of raising $6,000 in 30 days. They reached their goal overnight.
Lorenz-Kruk has since moved on to a new project, Kickback Pants, a line of trousers inspired by his own preppy style. “Each pair of pants is embroidered with an elegant and fun design,” Lorenz-Kruk said, such as a polar bears or sea animals. Every month, a portion of the company’s proceeds will go directly to a charity that benefits the animals depicted on the pants. Kickback Pants is planning to launch in Fall 2015.
Pobutkiewicz is still a mentor for Lorenz-Kruk, who said “I strongly urge young aspiring entrepreneurs to reach out to [Frank], I know I still do.”