Barton business students start entrepreneur mentor group, The SPARK

CTE Month 2016: This feature is the second of four stories to be released by Barton Community College in February in celebration of Career Technical Education (CTE) Month.

CTE Month® is an annual celebration held in February of CTE community members’ achievements and accomplishments nationwide. CTE Month 2016 gives the CTE community a chance to tell the stories of leadership and excellence from classrooms across the country, and raise awareness of the crucial role that CTE has in readying our nation for economic success and workforce competitiveness. 

February 22, 2016
Story and photo by Brandon Steinert 

Without a spark, one won’t have a fire. This concept is the metaphor used by Barton business students Thomas Thill, Devon Nelson and Andrew Iverson when they founded The SPARK, an entrepreneurs’ club where members are provided resources and guidance related to starting or growing a business. From determining if an idea would be viable and profitable, to marketing practices and tax questions, anything goes.

“We are here to spark that fire in club members to be enthused about being a good leader and entrepreneur,” Nelson said.

Each of the three young leaders operate their own businesses. Thill and Iverson both perform automobile detailing services and Nelson repairs broken iPhones.

Growth didn’t come easy at first and defining a purpose and format for the group was new ground for them. Iverson said it was fitting that their entrepreneurial experience was the key to overcoming the ambiguity and building momentum.

“We knew what we wanted but were not sure what would work,” he said. “Finding out what the program needed, what direction to take and getting people involved was difficult, but easier than we had thought.”

The club started early in the fall 2015 semester and has grown to about 15 active members with ever-increasing interest and awareness about the program on campus. The trio said they’re excited about what is possible with the new mentorship club.

One factor to which they attributed the group’s growth and development is the involvement of Business Instructor and Program Coordinator Kathy Boeger.

“She’s a warrior,” Thill said.

Nelson added, “She’s just amazing. Without us knowing, she has pushed us to be better. She’s good at doing that.”

Boeger said she believes in the young gentlemen and sees in them tremendous potential.

“Without them and their drive as current and future entrepreneurs, The SPARK would not be growing and successful,” Boeger said. “Their focus on hands-on-education, leadership and sharing experiences is key to this group’s success. These three talented and visionary young men, along with many others just like them, are our economic future. I am honored to be a small part of their time at Barton.”

Nelson said thanks to Boeger’s involvement, they worked through the hard part of forming the group efficiently and they are optimistic about the club’s future.

Some of the activities thus far have included guest speakers from business owners in the area and a fundraiser selling Barton beanie caps to faculty, staff and students. The group has ambitious plans for future programming, including a retreat to visit the Kauffman Center in Kansas City. The Kauffman Foundation has a strong focus on supporting and growing interest in entrepreneurship.

Despite the heavy focus on business and the group’s origins from the business program, Thill, Nelson and Iverson said the group is for any Barton student curious about entrepreneurship who might just need a spark to get things moving.

“It doesn't take a special person to do what we do,” Nelson said. “This group opened my eyes that this is for everybody. To see speakers we brought in, to see what they're doing, they did it and they made it stick.”

Boeger, who sponsors The SPARK, agreed.

“All students should get involved in organizations no matter what they are studying,” she said. “It is crucial to feel a part of something, have support while attending college and organizational involvement enhances the learning experience. Mentor relationships can help students grow in their personal and professional lives. The advice, support and personal growth opportunities are priceless and key to the success of most students. The SPARK offers these opportunities and ALL students are welcome to join.”

CTE month will culminate with a Career Technical Education Fair from 1-3 p.m. on Feb. 29 in the Case New Holland Shop in the Northeast side of the Technical building. The fair is available for 8th grade students, high school students, current Barton students, community members and will feature demonstrations, hands-on-activities, refreshments, prizes and photo ops with the Barton mascot.  To sign up, contact Denise Schreiber at (620) 792-9324 or schreiberd@bartonccc.edu.

Barton business students and co-founders of The SPARK entrepreneurs’ mentor group Thomas Thill (from left), Andrew Iverson and Devon Nelson pose for a photo on Barton’s campus.