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Any kid can become an entrepreneur, speaker tells conference

By Megan Workman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More than a quarter of West Virginia's children live in poverty, but that shouldn't prevent them from running their own business one day, the keynote speaker at Create West Virginia's conference said Friday.

Award-winning director and 50 Eggs Films CEO Mary Mazzio said there are children who go to school hungry and others who live with parents who are high on drugs. But those kids can be self-supportive in the future and they need to know that, she said.

Being poor doesn't matter; the change starts with a shift of cultural thinking on entrepreneurship, Mazzio said.

"Thinking entrepreneurially, are they born or are they made?" Mazzio asked the group of mostly business owners. "Entrepreneurs are not born, they are made. Anybody can be an entrepreneur."

About 80 people at the Ramada Inn Downtown Charleston attended the first meeting of the fifth annual Create WV conference. Through workshops, meetings and showcases, the conference aims to inspire community leaders, educators, artists and others to effect change in West Virginia. The conference, hosted in Charleston for the first time, ends Saturday.

"The concept of entrepreneurship is so right for disenfranchised children and children who are living in poverty," Mazzio said. "Entrepreneurship is not just about risk, it's about hope. When you work for someone else, you are at a risk but when you are an entrepreneur, the only person who can fire you is you."

Mazzio -- who is a U.S. Olympian in rowing -- has worked with inner-city children.

Incorporating entrepreneurship curriculum where poor kids put on a jacket and tie and people listen to them shows those children that they do matter, Mazzio said.

"When you show a child that they can be self-supportive ... you have to know math and English ... then education becomes relevant," Mazzio said.

West Virginia Schools Superintendent Jorea Marple, who also spoke Friday morning, said poverty "manifests in a way that impacts what we can achieve in schools," such as how healthy the child is and their test scores.

Marple said education earlier in a child's life is key to bring more businesses to West Virginia.

"We have a tough job in West Virginia, and that makes it even more important that we have a structure in place that will provide change," Marple said. "Entrepreneurship change can't wait until high school; we have to begin that in pre-K."

Today's West Virginians grew up when coal and energy companies dominated the state, Mazzio said. But now there "is a wide-open opportunity for small businesses" to fill that void back in, she said.

Innovative thinking is important for entrepreneurs, Mazzio said. "You can dream up ideas by yourself and you don't have to ask permission," she said. "You cannot just be a good doctor or teacher; we are all expendable unless we're constantly innovating and looking for new ways."

Many business owners today have failed at one time, she said. Mazzio listed big-time business owners who have failed, such as Tom Scott, co-owner of Nantucket Nectars, a beverage company, who lived in his van at one time; and Virgin Airlines owner Richard Branson.

"You can get back up," Mazzio said.

Mazzio showed guests a clip from "Lemonade Stories," a film she produced and directed, which featured Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank -- who was fired from his job before he founded his company.

"The best form of job security is being an entrepreneur," Mazzio said.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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