- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 12, 2006

At a young age, Thomas Dant realized that he saw the world in a different way.

“My uncle gave me a camera when I was 8, and after playing with it for a few years I realized I had an eye for photography,” said the 17-year-old Silver Spring native.

Thomas’ vision paid off in October when he won a $5,000 prize in a national competition for teen entrepreneurs, taking second place in the Youth Business Plan competition for his proposal to provide fine-art photography as a business.

Thomas stood before a panel of judges and explained his business plan for Fine Foto, exhibiting his “Passion for the Planet” series of photographs featuring Montgomery County firefighters.

The competition was hosted by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), an educational program to stimulate student interest in entrepreneurship. Thomas was one of 28 students nationwide who were invited to the Youth Business Plan competition this year.

Thomas, a senior at Montgomery Blair High School, said he was inspired by his high school teacher Derek Sontz.

“I couldn’t have done this without Mr. Sontz,” said Thomas. “He loves seeing his students succeed.”

Mr. Sontz’s entrepreneurship class encourages students to pick careers and explore the aspects of creating and managing a business.

“I can’t take too much credit,” said Mr. Sontz. “I’m only the facilitator of the program. Thomas had the passion to follow through.”

Mr. Sontz has been teaching business courses at Montgomery Blair for seven years and is a fan of the NFTE entrepreneurial program.

“The [NFTE-sponsored] course has offered a lot of opportunities for Thomas, and I feel he has learned a lot about himself through this experience,” Mr. Sontz said.

Mr. Sontz hopes to see a ripple effect among his students as a result of Thomas’ success. “Thomas’ peers are able to see that opportunities like this are very real,” he said.

So what does the future hold for this young business visionary? Thomas said he has applied to study at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland.

As for his Fine Foto business, Thomas said, he will focus on selling his works in regional galleries.

“I’m going to invest the money back into the business to make more prints of the artwork for my prospective galleries,” he said, adding that several local art retailers have asked him to display his photos in their galleries.

“Thomas is just one of the bright lights that could be out there,” Mr. Sontz said. “There’s too many kids that get into trouble for doing something wrong, and Thomas is one kid who should get recognition for doing something right.”

— Bryce Baschuk

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