Middle and high school students already dreaming about running their own businesses got to pick the brains of some of Loudoun County’s most successful entrepreneurs Tuesday evening.
The 30 teens who make up Loudoun Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural Young Entrepreneurs Academy class gathered for a CEO Roundtable. The event featured five panelists: FCi Federal founder Sharon Virts, McLean Insurance President and CEO Doug Megill, Champagne Services owner Geoff Crawley, Community Foundation of Loudoun and Fauquier Counties Executive Director Amy Owen, and JP Events & Consulting President and CEO Tina Johnson.
Asked by the event’s moderator, Successful Culture founder and CEO Marissa Levin, how they got their start as entrepreneurs, each of the panelists told stories of humble beginnings and rocky patches along the way.
Virts started her company, FCi Federal, out of her mother’s basement. She was 24 years old when she first wanted to set out on her own, and 29 years old when she finally took the leap. “It was just me,” she said. FCi Federal now has 5,000 employees and subcontractors with a projected revenue of more than $200 million this year. “I failed a couple of times, but I never quit. I knew that was a good trait for an entrepreneur.”
Megill said he knew he wanted to work in sales at 12 years old, when he consistently out sold his friends in their baseball team’s annual fundraising sales events. “Every entrepreneur needs to be a great sales person because if you have an idea, you need to be able to sell it,” he told the students.
Almost every one of the panelists said there were times when their companies’ revenue had slumped so low that they could not take home a paycheck. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Levin stressed.
The Young Entrepreneurs Academy launched last fall as a seven-month program designed to transform middle and high school students into entrepreneurs and business owners. Throughout the class, the academy’s students are developing business ideas. By the end of it, they will pitch their plans to investors and launch and run their own legal, fully formed companies and nonprofit organizations.
Owen, a leader in Loudoun’s nonprofit sector, encouraged the budding entrepreneurs to apply for internships, rub shoulders with people who are more experienced, and don’t be afraid to ask the stupid questions. “I love being surrounded by people who know so much more than me,” she said. “If you’re afraid to ask the questions or be around people who do know the answers, then you’re not going to advance. … You don’t know what you don’t know.”
Levin told the students that they already have a key characteristic of any successful entrepreneur: courage. “What you’re doing is so courageous and so brave—to put yourself out there with your ideas,” she said. “That’s the first step.”
Learn more about the Young Entrepreneurs Academy here.