The message was moving for students in more ways than one.
"You have to think you are great before you become it, go after your dreams rather than running from it."
EJ Carrion, an author, motivational speaker and "mediocre rapper" from Dallas, had more than 100 students of all ages bobbing their heads, clapping and even dancing a little to his inspirational rhymes.
"Live every day like it could be your last, the world is almost over because so many dreams have crashed."
Carrion and the Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour made a stop in Omaha on Friday as part of the inaugural Heartland Student Entrepreneurship Conference hosted by Metropolitan Community College and sponsored by the Lincoln Financial Foundation.
The event offered students entrepreneurship and business planning workshops, an essay contest, competitions and a question-and-answer panel with successful local and out-of-state entrepreneurs.
One of the youngest participants, 12-year-old Shanda Fujan, a home-schooled student, asked the panelists: How young is too young to start your own business?
Panelist Lorrie Williams, an interior designer and co-founder of Fluff Your Stuff Interior ReDesign in Omaha, answered, "You're never too young." Her colleague Melanie Gillis added that you can do anything as long you have the passion and "fire."
Some of the tips shared by the panelists:
» Melissa Stephens, owner of The Cordial Cherry near 180th and Pacific Streets, said you don't need a lot of money to start a business. She has never taken out a business loan and started her chocolate store with $3,000. She turned old doors into display tables and used table lamps turned upside down as chandeliers. "It can be done on a budget," she said.
» Jefferson Meyer of Contemporary Analysis, an Omaha-based firm that, through economics and data science, helps companies become more efficient, said get to know the people you work with and your customers. "Some of your best mentors are your clients," he said.
» Christopher James Koerner, the CEO of a growing cell phone repair and recycling company in Huntsville, Ala., said it's not always smart to start a business with a friend. He said find a partner who will bring something to the table other than a friendship.
Carrion told the students to follow their dreams and start now. He started young, too. Now in his early 20s, he's already a published author and has spoken to tens of thousands of students across the country.
"I love what I do," he said. "The main objective is to light some fire, give the students knowledge and motivate them to go after what they always thought would be a good idea."
Fujan was excited to be a part of the "interesting" conference. "This helped me to see you have to go after what you want," she said.
Cole Carpenter, a junior at Millard West High School, attended the conference with students in the Millard Entrepreneurship Academy.
"I've always had a passion for business and not working for someone else, but working with your own ideas," the 17-year-old said. "This conference gave me more ideas and the motivation to do it. It also made it clear that you should never give up on an idea."
Carpenter said he wants to open a recording studio and an instrument shop, incorporating unique instruments from all around the world.
"This really helped me to see that I can do it," he said
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