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5 students talk to Ohio Secretary of State

Photo by Janelle Patterson Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, left, describes his vision for small businesses opening in Ohio to Chris Pfeiffer during a listening session at Marietta College on Tuesday.

Five local students and one local business owner sat in a room with the Ohio Secretary of State on Tuesday and bounced business ideas, needs and strategy off of the descendant of immigrant entrepreneurs.

Frank LaRose, 42, of Hudson, explained to the group that while each year he is passionate about fair and equitable elections in Ohio, the other half of the elected office is focused on business.

“I’ve been in this office for (a little over) a year and we’re the front door for new businesses when somebody wants to get their articles of incorporation,” LaRose explained. “So whether it’s like my great-grandfather who immigrated from Italy and started our family business 80 years ago and in those days he had to mail his paperwork to Columbus, or it’s a woman here in Marietta going through our website tonight and will be notified six to 10 hours later after paying the lowest fee in any state in the Midwest, we’re trying to make it easy for people to do business in Ohio.”

And entrepreneurship, the willingness to dream and take business risks, was the topic of discussion Tuesday in the Prince Forum of Marietta College’s Legacy Library, affording that intimate opportunity to think out loud and for young students to receive another layer of feedback from the head of the very office which processes businesses’ articles of incorporation in the state.

“Entrepreneurship is more than starting a new venture, it’s a skill you can use in all aspects of life even when you work for someone else. People want creative workers, people don’t want to hire robots,” said Dr. Jacqueline Khorassani, director of the entrepreneurship program at Marietta College.

Austin McCleary, of Marietta, explains his vision to remove transportation barriers through a car library nonprofit program during a listening session at Marietta College with Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

Around the room were Doug Ankrom, president and CEO of Riverview Credit Union; Chris Pfeiffer, a small business owner and resident of Marietta; Sophia Nayak, a rising high school sophomore of Veritas Classical Academy in Marietta and the winner of the Junior PioBiz competition this year with the college’s entrepreneurship program; Dr. Bill Ruud, president of the college; and MC students of the entrepreneurship program Allison Barnes, of Lancaster, Austin McCleary, of Marietta, and Hannah McKain, of Parkersburg.

LaRose dove into the business ideas still in development and plans of the students who’ve made their pitches.

Nayak explained the design of a medical services comparison app.

“I’m such a believer in competition, it makes us stronger,” LaRose told her. “It’s good to have competition and to bring that free-market competition to the medical space has really been lacking for too long, that’s a really cool idea.”

Barnes explained a vision to bring art classes to learners in parks and public spaces, with feedback from LaRose including marketing to companies for business retreats.

Sophia Nayak, a rising high school sophomore of Veritas Classical Academy in Marietta, listens during a gathering with the Ohio Secretary of State at Marietta College on Tuesday.

“Maybe you can see as a for-profit (business) someday, a lot of companies are looking for team-building activities for their associates where they will take a retreat in the summer and have serious meetings in the morning and serious meetings in the afternoon and maybe midday they could do an art workshop, that could be a thing where the company pays you to do that for their employees,” he suggested.

For nonprofit advice, LaRose first listened to the backstory and vision of McCleary in the proposed “Car Library.”

McCleary explained that growing up in a rural and low-income environment, access to transportation and the funds to find independent transportation created barriers that inspired his idea as an actuarial science major at the college.

“I grew up in a very low-income household and in high school, I really wanted to get a car and I was more than willing to work hard to get a car, but I lived in a rural area and my family only had one car,” he explained.

This created a barrier to get to a job to make the money to purchase that independence.

Dr. Jacqueline Khorassani, director of the entrepreneurship program at Marietta College, explains the roles of PioPitch and PioBiz competitions in encouraging entrepreneurs to dream during a listening session with Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose on campus Tuesday.

“Living in a rural area, public transportation is not really available and Uber is not really an option,” described McCleary. “Ultimately I was able to get a car before going to college by working overnights at Walmart, I’d work from 10:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. … that was the one time of day that my parents didn’t need their car.”

He explained a vision for partnership with dealerships and insurance companies to lower the barrier to independent transportation by a rent-to-own system that empowers individuals without means to build savings for a vehicle.

“I’m familiar with the model because I’ve seen them pop up around Columbus over the years where you have an app that you can borrow a car for short-term use,” said LaRose. “But what you’re talking about is getting people into their own reliable transportation, that’s very interesting.”

McKain fielded an early idea for the mesh of essential oil therapies with a beauty product line born out of her own mental health insights as a student.

Pfeiffer explained that not only has he operated The Bread Garage as a small business owner, but also has owned a digital marketing company, is involved in a sheet metal fabrication company in Parkersburg, and most recently completed a second term on the advisory board for the college’s entrepreneurship program.

He challenged LaRose to look further into cottage industry protections to help local entrepreneurs like the ones he sees at the River City Farmer’s Market each Saturday thrive in a marketplace economy.

LaRose noted following the meeting an inclination not only to check out the market’s success on Butler Street, but also to explore the local bicycle and multi-use trails in Marietta with his family upon his return.

Janelle Patterson may be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

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