The Iron Block Engagement and Innovation Hub was the first rural co-working space in Indiana when it opened its doors five years ago. Today, there are 64 similar co-working locations across Indiana. Part of The Iron Block’s mission is to encourage entrepreneurship and facilitate growth for small companies.

According to the Small Business Association, small businesses account for 99.7 percent of U.S. employer firms, 64 percent of net new private-sector jobs and 49.2 percent of private-sector employment. And it is not just small businesses, but new businesses five years or younger that account for 80 percent of job growth.

“Based on these statistics, we need to do all we can to support our entrepreneurs and help our local economy,” says Jason Wilhite, Membership and Events Director for the Clinton County Chamber of Commerce. “Entrepreneurship is not offered as a high school course – but it should be.”

Encouraging entrepreneurship starts at a young age via scouts, school fundraisers and lemonade stands. High school students may take advantage of a state-wide pitch competition for their entrepreneurial ideas. Applications for the 2021 Innovate WithIN pitch competition, a statewide initiative hosted by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) and the STARTedUP Foundation, are open to high school students across Indiana.

Innovate WithIN, which is in its fourth year, gives Hoosier students the opportunity to create their own business plans and showcase entrepreneurial ideas throughout the state. The overall winners of the state competition will each receive a $10,000 cash prize, $10,000 toward one year of in-state tuition, college scholarship award opportunities, internship opportunities, mentoring services and more.

The mission statement of the STARTedUP Foundation is “to teach students how to view life through a lens of innovation and entrepreneurship, while building a life of purpose. We envision a generation of youth with an ‘Opportunities are Everywhere’ mindset, fueling innovation and hope for our communities, country and the world. To achieve this, we spark interest in innovation and design thinking to solve problems. We coach students through the process as they develop new ideas, and we accelerate student solutions to market-ready ventures.”

For more information about The STARTedUP Foundation, visit startedup foundation.org.

“Our goal is to create a statewide ecosystem of support to help equip the next generation of entrepreneurs by encouraging students to see problems as opportunities,” said Don Wettrick, founder and CEO of STARTedUP. “It’s been amazing to see the variety of community and industry partners who have come together to assist the students as they bring their ideas to life.”

Mentoring young entrepreneurs is important to The Iron Block, which welcomes area business leaders to mentor new businesses. In the past, The Iron Block has hosted a 10-session entrepreneurship camp for high school students and recent graduates. Currently, a committee is exploring fundraising efforts to make improvements to its facility by creating a fun space for creativity, including a podcast booth.

“We are hopeful for more students to engage with entrepreneurism at The Iron Block,” says Wilhite. “Our board members are involved with community schools and work scholarship opportunities.

“Later this year, we are going to have a big push for the 2022 (Innovate WithIN) competition, locally,” he added.

In 2020, Innovate WithIN drew 152 online applications from 419 Hoosier students at 50 high schools. Students can submit applications and learn more details about the program at InnovateWithIN.org.