04/02/2013 08:19 pm ET Updated Jun 02, 2013

It's Never Too Early to Start Thinking like an Entrepreneur

By Chris Schultz, Co-founder of LaunchPad & Flatstack in New Orleans

"Who wants fireballs going out, and who wants her shooting flames?" Lionel asked.

The hands went up for fireballs, and Lionel spun around the flame out of the trumpet arms on Fiona Flames, the new character that he prototyped in real-time the ideas being generated by the class of 7th and 8th graders at KIPP Central City in New Orleans.

We were in front of this eager group thanks to a new program called Startup Effect, launched by newcomers to New Orleans, Billy Schrero & Mike Mayer, two Venture for America Fellows working with startups in the city.

Startup Effect is an after-school program designed to expose middle school students to real-world startups and inspire them to "Work Smart! Act Now! & Dream Big!" the call and response mantra that Schrero and Mayer shout like coaches during the fast-paced afternoon session.

Lionel Milton is the creator of Mardi Brah, an iPhone football skills game set in the streets of New Orleans, and he had come on this day to get real product feedback from the students who were, in fact, the target audience for the game. The Mardi Brah challenge was prototyping and the students had been taught the importance of "play & refine" and once you design something, you have to test and evolve. The week prior, they had designed a stick figure drawing of a new character for Mardi Brah, and Lionel was here to turn it into a real character in the game, right before their eyes.

Lionel took the prototype the students had created and sketched the female character before digitalizing it and putting it up on a giant screen where the students could provide input and watch the prototyping process. The kids were mesmerized as Lionel constructed Tutti based on their input, carefully running through color choices and adding details like a hair bow and getting her eyes just so. By the time we got to the fireballs coming out of the trumpet-arms, the students had seen their vision executed and the prototype was ready for the game.

Startup Effect is a powerful new program on many levels. The students at KIPP Central City are being exposed to real companies and learning cutting edge startup thinking, and getting started early. The mantra keeps reminding the students that they have the opportunity to do anything they want, they just have to work at it.

Schrero and Mayer are going beyond their full-time positions as Venture for America Fellows with Staff Insight and Federated Sample in New Orleans. They've taken it to another level and decided to make an impact beyond just working hard and helping those companies succeed. They have build a program in Startup Effect that will positively impact students in New Orleans and is scalable across Venture for America cities.

It's a virtuous cycle of paying it forward, and we're fortunate to have Venture for America & Startup Effect in New Orleans.

Work Smart! Act Now! & Dream Big!

Chris Schultz is the co-founder of Launch Pad & Flatstack. He invests through Voodoo Ventures. He is currently launching a product focused on team happiness in the workplace called Niko Niko. He actively mentors entrepreneurs in New Orleans and serves on the investor board for Venture for America. Follow him on Twitter @cschultz.