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CAPS Off to High School Students Who Embrace Entrepreneurship Early

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Co-Authored by Michele Markey, Vice President, Kauffman FastTrac

Poised. Articulate. Innovative. Confident. As the graduation season continues, it's not uncommon to hear commencement speakers lauding such praise on graduating high school seniors.

But, recipient of seed funding? Serial entrepreneur? Patent-holder? Not so much.

Not so fast! These are the exact attributes of 16- to 18-year-old students who are realizing their entrepreneurial dreams thanks to an innovative high school program scaling in the suburbs of Kansas City.

Drop by the Blue Valley Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) any day of the week, and you'll find a bustle of entrepreneurial activity. During the just-completed school year in this Johnson County, Kan. district, CAPS served more than 900 students. Dressed to the nines in their business attire, these kids look you in the eye and, with a firm handshake, introduce themselves -- and their companies. What's with this rigorous professional immersion program for high school students? Executive director Donna Deeds coolly cites the CAPS' approach to education: "We're not preparing these students for college; we're preparing them for life."

In four discipline "strands" -- (1) business, technology and media, (2) bioscience, (3) engineering, (4) human services -- CAPS students immerse themselves in courses typically reserved for university and graduate students. Global Marketing and Business Development? "Check." Molecular Medicine and Bioengineering? "On my transcript." Robotics? "Aced it!"

Thriving in this hands-on program, CAPS students are clearly raising the bar and pushing themselves to exceed what adults expect of "typical" high school students. Since the program's inception four years ago, CAPS accomplishments include one full patent, 11 provisional patents, six LLCs formed, and endorsements from 35 universities and 20 local and international corporations. Additionally, the CAPS organization itself is an Edison Award winner and the 2013 Incubator of the Year honoree by the National Business Incubator Association.

Who are the faces behind the numbers?

Meet Gaby Lobo, honored this spring as CAPS 2013 Student Innovator of the Year. The founder of Pest Deflector, a dryer sheet infused with natural repellent and insecticide derived from chrysanthemum flowers, Gaby took her product from ideation through design and testing and now has a patent pending. She'll continue her studies this fall at Kansas State University, focusing on industrial engineering.

Last year's recipient was senior Hunter Browning. His credits? Author of The Young Entrepreneur: From Navigating School Halls to the World of Business, three-time entrepreneur serving as CEO of both Fannect and BLIS Resonance and founder of BLIS Labs. He also is the holder of provisional patents on a hydrogen technology that experienced physicists said would never work. They were wrong!

CAPS brims with success stories like Gaby's and Hunter's.

As leaders of Kauffman FastTrac, a global provider of curricula that teaches entrepreneurs to start and grow companies, we are privileged -- and, frankly, humbled -- to serve as advisory board members, business plan competition judges and business partners to CAPS' hub of entrepreneurial activity.

When CAPS leaders first approached us in 2011 to express their interest in offering FastTrac courses to their students, we were thrilled at the prospect. But, as we began to describe the courses we offer for credit at the college level, they stopped us short. No, they weren't interested in what we deliver for college students. They wanted our courses for adults, specifically FastTrac NewVenture and FastTrac TechVenture - -high-intensity, fast-paced, aggressive courses designed to get businesses up and running quickly. Now, in hindsight, we shouldn't have been surprised!

What's even more heartening than their raising the bar for hundreds of suburban Kansas kids is the fact that CAPS is eager to share -- and replicate -- its success. The organization's leaders readily share lessons learned with school districts from Topeka to Minnetonka, Park City to North Kansas City, consulting with fellow educators to ensure students across the nation are given access to tools, information, resources, and mentors so they, too, may capitalize on their own business ideas.

It is against this backdrop of "paying it forward" that Kauffman FastTrac and its parent organization, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, elect to support the CAPS organization. We believe we all must work to unleash the innovative spirit of individuals and open young minds to this world's possibilities. While they may experience initial anxiety in uncharted territories, it seems young people march confidently toward new opportunities with a fearless determination to accomplish what many adults deem impossible.

With the guidance of adults who have had their own business experiences, it may ultimately be these young people who not only bring their own ideas to fruition, but who help to shape our global economy, even encouraging us "adults" to consider our own innovative ideas. It's a virtuous cycle within which we all have the opportunity to operate.

Learn more about high school students graduating to entrepreneurial success at www.bvcaps.org.

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Michele Markey is Vice President of Kauffman FastTrac, the leading global provider of learning curricula that equip aspiring and existing entrepreneurs with the business skills and insights, tools, resources, and networks to start and grow successful businesses. Recognized as an opinion leader, Michele has been a guest contributor for MSNBC, MarketWatch, Bloomberg News, AARP and many other national and local publications. She has been a featured expert for the American Management Association. Follow her on Twitter at @SheVenture.