(Photo courtesy of University of Delaware)
At age 22, Paul McConnell and his then-21-year-old brother started their own business. Before that, it was the paper route, cutting grass and house painting. Anything to make money during the summers.
That entrepreneurial spirit has served McConnell well. He’s now a partner with McConnell Johnson Real Estate, LLC and founder of 1313 Innovation — a collaboration between The McConnell Companies (a commercial real estate firm) and Digital-Vikings (a mobile design studio).
McConnell, a 1974 University of Delaware graduate, said he feels strongly about cultivating the entrepreneurial community in Delaware. That’s why he and his wife, Linda, recently announced a gift to the Horn Program in Entrepreneurship to expand youth programming.
“There are more young entrepreneurial men and women than ever before. There are so many kids with great ideas,” McConnell said. “We wanted to specifically help young people. The youth concept is often overlooked. It’s the hardest gift to get going.”
The McConnell’s gift is being used to establish the Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative, said Julie Frieswyk, the Horn Program’s external programs coordinator.
The Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative, she said, will focus on:
- The Diamond Challenge for High School Entrepreneurs. Now in its third year, the Diamond Challenge brings together students from across Delaware and the world to participate in planning and presenting a business model. Students are encouraged to think outside the box and embrace the entrepreneurial mindset.
- The Youth Entrepreneurship Summit (YES). This event will debut this year on the final day of the Diamond Challenge. The event — which includes workshops featuring young entrepreneurs, lunch, an awards ceremony, networking and speakers — will be held April 30, 2015. It will also feature an expo for teachers, so they can listen and learn about new technologies for the classroom.
- Teacher training. The details need to be worked out, Frieswyk said, but the goal is to host separate trainings for Delaware’s STEM and business teachers.
- Fun technology. The Horn Program is also exploring options for fun technology concepts and clubs for schools across the state. Frieswyk said she is talking with Coded by Kids and other youth coding clubs and organizations promoting technology playground concepts. Frieswyk and her team are also putting together a starter kit which aids teachers and students in starting an entrepreneurial club in their school.
Frieswyk said her department is grateful to have received the McConnell’s gift to further expand the Horn Program’s technology and entrepreneurial reach in Delaware.
“I can say that Paul obviously is very involved and interested in Delaware. It’s great to have someone with so much history in the state who really understands how important it is to invest in young people,” she said.
McConnell, who sits on the board and is also part of the Horn Program’s Youth Initiative Committee, said he believes the funding for these programs can help make an impact in the lives of hopeful entrepreneurs not only in Delaware, but across the world.
“The Horn Program is a real catalyst for change,” McConnell said. “We’re the second-smallest state and we act like it — we’re close minded about stuff. The Horn Program is thinking outside our borders.”
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