Butler Tech Project LIFE and DECA students earn top spots in national entrepreneurship competition

Nick Simmer, a student in Butler Tech Project LIFE, has placed second nationally in the Jacobson Institute for Youth Entrepreneurship Innovator Competition. The honor includes a $1,000 scholarship to fund his business, Turn Autistic to Artistic. Anthony Scott and Max Meyer of Butler Tech’s DECA business program at Edgewood High School, were among the top 12 finalists in the nation for their business, A&M Baits.

“I feel greatly honored to win,” says Simmer. “This competition has allowed me to use my talent and skill to show people how it’s been for me for so long. It’s truly something special!”

The Jacobson Institute at the University of Iowa sponsors a competition twice a year to promote entrepreneurship among high school students interested in expanding or starting a business. Turn Autistic to Artistic focuses on creating comic illustrations, called social stories, to help students with Autism and other disabilities cope with unfamiliar situations. Simmer plans to use the scholarship to upgrade his business’ technology.

“I’d like to purchase a monitor that is tablet graphics accessible and get a website started so I can help more teachers with social stories and communicate better with my school.” In addition, Simmers also wants to increase his storage for saving more animations.

Simmer's Larry LIFE character.

Simmer’s Larry LIFE character.

Simmer’s emotional insights, combined with his artistic talents, are a value to teachers whose social stories are graphically limited. According to Simmers’ Project LIFE instructor, Jacob Krause, “Nick can take a teacher’s bullet points and sketch the problem and a solution that’s worked for either him or his classmates, and share it back in about 20 to 25 minutes. He’s good at quick thinking like that.”

Simmer discovered his love for animation at the early age of 2 while watching Disney films, such as Beauty and the Beast, Winnie the Pooh and international animations like Spirited Away. He also draws inspiration from his Project LIFE classmates who share in his experiences. Project LIFE is a transition program to help students with special needs to further develop employment skills for greater independence in adulthood.

“My stories help give my classmates a voice to express how they feel when they don’t always know how to say it. It also gives those without disabilities the opportunity to understand how me and my classmates perceive the world around us and know what we’re thinking and feeling.” Simmer also created the cartoon character, Larry Life, who stars in weekly comics showing how his classmates are overcoming their own difficult experiences.

Anthony Scott and Max Meyer of Edgewood High School.

Anthony Scott and Max Meyer of Edgewood High School.

A&M Baits founders, Meyer and Scott, discovered the passion fueling their bait business at a young age while fishing with their families. Years after becoming friends, the freshmen found their knowledge and skills an asset to producing and selling custom-made jigs, a type of fishing lure.

“Because we fish a lot and fishing jigs are so expensive, we decided to start making our own. After a while, our friends and family at school wanted to start buying our jigs, so we decided to start selling them,” explains Scott.

A fishing jig created by Meyer and Scott.

A fishing jig created by Meyer and Scott.

Meyer and Scott’s fishing jigs are made from top-quality materials purchased from a vendor the two have been using for years. With the support of their local fishing community, family and friends, their jigs are becoming a popular and trusted item offering customers the promise of durability and longevity. They plan on adding more variety to their inventory, including a jig that vibrates to attract more fish.

“The exciting thing about what we’re doing is that we have all this knowledge and we can do something to help in the community that we’re so involved in. We’re excited to see our products become trusted tools, and it’ll be nice to see what else we can come up with,” says Meyer, Butler Tech freshman in DECA at Edgewood High School.