- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2007

It all started when Donna Washington had a bad hair day.

Frustrated that her curls wouldn’t stay put, the business student at Anne Arundel Community College created a product to fix the problem. Now 24, she has a patent. The college sophomore hopes to begin selling the hair clip in stores and eventually form her own high-end line.

Ms. Washington is part of a growing number of young people interested in starting their own businesses, as downsizing and widespread layoffs have created a job market that is low on security.

Administrators at universities offering entrepreneurship programs say they have seen a new breed of college student emerge in the past few years.

But even with the popularity of entrepreneurial shows such as “The Apprentice,” many aspiring business owners don’t know where to begin.

As part of National Entrepreneurship Week, Anne Arundel Community College’s students and Maryland-area high schoolers met with specialists yesterday to discuss the ins and outs of starting their own company.

Rep. John Sarbanes, Maryland Democrat, told the students about government’s role in business, saying the private and public sectors should work together to solve problems in areas such as health care and education.

“Those can’t be tackled and solved by one sector alone,” he said. “We must work together.”

Keaton Ley, a senior at Severna Park High School in Maryland, came to learn about being an innovative thinker.

“I was interested in getting advice and experience on what exactly it takes to be an entrepreneur, and that set of mind that thinks up new ideas,” he said. Mr. Ley wants to be a certified public accountant, and open an accounting firm someday.

Brian Saba, 17, also a student at Severna Park, dreams of starting a law firm. His classmate, Jacqueline Mearman, who will attend the Culinary Institute of America in New York in the fall, plans to become an executive pastry chef and manage her own restaurant.

But even with high hopes and strong connections, entrepreneurship isn’t for the faint of heart.

Juggling a full load of classes and a job can be tricky. Misty Waters, 23, a business management major from Annapolis, has been waitressing for two years and was excited to hear from food-industry specialists.

“With opportunities like this, you can’t go wrong,” she said. “It takes, as with any venture, dedication and risk. It’s all about exploring and inspiring your potential,” she said. The Anne Arundel Community College sophomore “hopes to be owning a restaurant” in the near future.

It’s never too late to start. Rhonda Ulmer, 32, a sophomore education major from Severn, Md., was encouraged by speakers to keep pursuing her goals.

“I would like to get back in my community and engage young African-Americans in the business,” she said, referring to her love of photography. “It’s how you sustain your heritage.”

Peter Stanton, owner of Stanton Communications, a public relations firm in the District, stressed the importance of establishing relationships and overcoming obstacles.

“Your faith in yourself will be tested. Your financial resources will be tested,” he said. “Don’t expect to conquer the world overnight. It’s your knowledge and your experience that people will hire you for.”

Jim O’Connor, a representative of the Small Business Administration, gave the audience a final word of advice.

“You are the innovators. You are the future,” he said. “Do things that matter and fill a need.”

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