April 18, 2009
Quick thinking inspires student’s business plan
SYRACUSE — Homer High School senior Caleb Earl was home sick when his teacher called, reminding him of that day’s deadline to submit a mock business plan to a regional competition. Earl had forgotten the assignment, but within an hour, he created a plan and filed it.
Friday, his quickly conceived idea of manufacturing biodegradable fishing lures was announced as the winner of the $5,000 prize in the competition with nearly 100 entrees, many of them college students.
Earl became the first high school student to win the 5K Business Idea Competition, a contest held by the Metropolitan Development Association. This was the third year the competition took place. A panel of judges considered 98 entries from a 12-county region in central and northern New York, said Mitchell Paterson, an employee of the Metropolitan Development Association who managed the competition.
Earl, who before the competition had said his chance of winning was “probably not that great,” was beaming as a presenter handed him a large cardboard check in a lecture hall at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management.
Lauren Shore, a senior at Homer High School, was one of 10 semi-fiinalists in the competition. Her idea was to open an extreme sports store in Homer featuring a rock climbing wall and an area for local artists and community members to sell products of their choice.
Both students submitted their ideas for their economics class taught by Joe Cortese. Cortese asked all of his students to submit an explanation of an entrepreneurial idea. Because the students submitted their entries online, Cortese said he never saw their submissions, only a confirmation that they had submitted entries.
Cortese saw that Earl had not submitted an entry and called him at home. Earl, who was sick with an allergic reaction to medication, had forgotten about the assignment and had not thought of an idea.
Earl’s idea came from his experiences kayaking and spotting fishing lures that become detached from fishing lines and scattered around rivers.
“I kayak, and it’s kind of unsightly to see a bright orange lure hanging up in a tree,” Earl said.
In a poster describing his idea, Earl showed that these lures create an environmental hazard by killing fish. Since 1987, nearly half of loons found dead or moribund were diagnosed with lead poisoning, most likely from lures containing lead, according to Earl’s poster.
Earl’s father, Homer Board of Education President Forrest Earl, said before the awards ceremony that he had no involvement in the assignment. But Caleb Earl said his father influenced him to think of the idea, even though it was unintentional.
Forrest Earl often fishes as a hobby, and sometimes, he talks about losing his fishing lures and needing to buy new ones, Caleb explained.
“I figured, what happened to the lost ones?” he said.
Earl said he is not sure what materials he would use to produce the biodegradable fishing lures. He envisions the lures containing two layers. The outside layer would take about a month to degrade, and then the inside layer would degrade rapidly, he said.
Shore’s idea to open an extreme sports store as an opportunity for community members to sell goods was influenced by the national recession that has heavily impacted Cortland County.
“I think because of the economy that it was based on wanting to include the community in this business,” she said.
She said she would develop the store just off Exit 12 of Interstate 81 in Homer, where Fingerlakes Construction is located. She said she does not intend to take over the construction company’s facility, though, and only chose it because it would be easily accessible to people traveling from Syracuse and Ithaca.
During the event, five businesses from Central New York were also competing for New York’s Creative Core $100,000 Emerging Business Competition.
Of the 10 semi-finalists for the 5K Business Idea Competition, a presenter announced that Earl and four college students had been chosen as finalists in the competition Friday evening. The other students’ ideas included a personalized beer brewing operation for people to customize and purchase beer through a Web site, a portable ultrasound device for pregnant women, and a company that would help people to manage and improve their online reputations so that content on Web sites such as YouTube and Facebook does not prevent them from getting jobs.
“This is just amazing. I’m so proud of him,” Cortese said after Earl won.
Forrest Earl simply said he was “shocked.”
“He’s got the innate skills to be an entrepreneur,” said Linda Hartstock, director for the Center for Cleantech Entrepreneurship in Syracuse and former executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp.-Industrial Development Agency.
“What he’s looking at is a very hot sector of the economy — biodegradables,” she said. “If I were him, the first thing I’d do is go visit Brian Ward at Cortland Line.”
Ward is the president of Cortland Line, which manufactures fishing line and other products.
“Hopefully it will influence young people to think about entrepreneurship as a career,” she said of the competition.
Earl said he will use the $5,000 toward his tuition at the University of Vermont, where he will enroll next fall. He has not decided on a major yet.
Shore said she will go to SUNY Oneonta and major in dietetics.
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