from the Winter 2019 issue of Saint Ignatius Magazine; story by Paris Wolfe
When Cooper Ilg ’19 was in fifth grade at Dover Intermediate School in Westlake, he sold candy to his peers. That is, until teachers noticed the activity and discouraged the enterprising middle schooler.
And so Ilg’s entrepreneurial fire retreated until his freshman year at Saint Ignatius High School. “I heard an announcement about the Saint Ignatius Entrepreneur Academy (SIEntA),” he recalls. “I thought the business club would help expand my interests further.”
It certainly did. Using what he learned and practiced through the club, he started a neighborhood business repairing gas street lamps.
Launched in 2009, SIEntA is an educational program that combines entrepreneurial classes and extra-curricular opportunities to prepare students for business school. Club activities are open to all class levels. Students can opt in as little or as much as they want. At the end of four years, active participants may receive a pre-entrepreneur credit for their college application.
The club meets weekly for presentations and discussions. Members participate in a stock market game, support club enterprises and are eligible for business internships. In February, students are invited to participate in the Ignatius Shark Tank business pitch competition. Startup awards reach up to $1,000, but the real gain is exposure to the alumni who judge the competition.
“We have amazing success stories from the program,” says SIEntA moderator and economics teacher Dan Hess ’88. About 20 students participate in the investment competition each year. Over the past 10 years more than 100 students have gotten summer internships and some of those have gone on to fulltime jobs after college. The real gain is hard to quantify; students develop a realistic sense of business and its details.
“We’re offering experiences and building an entrepreneurial mindset that is valuable in business today,” says Hess. “We’re teaching kids to recognize opportunity.”
SIEntA opens doors for students. Dan Ertle ’15 joined the club as a freshman and won the business plan competition his senior year. “Through SIEntA, I was awarded real seed money to help get my venture off the ground; but more importantly, I was also exposed to the power of the Saint Ignatius alumni network,” he says.
Ertle worked with Andrew Benisek ’17 to develop the Carryout Cradle, a device that facilitated secure car-transport of food and other items.
The pre-entrepreneurial credit and business relationships eased Ertle’s path to the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame. “Since my time with the entrepreneur academy, I’ve taken part in several business plan competitions at Notre Dame. All in all, my experience with SIEntA was extremely empowering in the sense that, as a 17-year-old, I was able to create something from scratch and given the resources to run with it.”
Benisek’17 pitched his first idea – a web design company -- as a 14-year-old freshman before teaming up with Ertle. “I didn’t win but I got an internship at a car dealership from a judge of the competition,” he recalls. Not only did he earn money, but he gained valuable business skills during his summer job and his alumni-boss benefited from a bright, motivated employee.
Today he’s at The Ohio State University studying computer science engineering in an integrated business engineering program. “I want to go into software product management,” he says.
“I love finding a young guy who is motivated, giving him an opportunity and let him run with it,” Hess says. “The impact is real.”