Lansing’s Youth Startup Challenge: An Interview with Tony Willis

 The Lansing Economic Area Partnership formerly known as LEAP, exemplifies great leadership supporting entrepreneurs.  The role LEAP play’s in driving innovation and job growth in Lansing have certainly been rewarding. LEAP is not only emerging entrepreneurs in Lansing, but they are also encouraging future innovation with youth entrepreneurship.

This year LEAP is again is hosting the Youth Startup Expo.  This event is a wide scope to student creativity and energy and offers a positive way to engage & innovate students who thrive entrepreneurship. The Youth Startup Expo is a LEAP initiative led by Tony Willis who is the Director of the New Economy Division. Lansing Mosaic caught up with Tony Willis for an interview to inform us about the Youth Startup Expo.

What is the Youth Startup Expo ?
The Youth Startup Expo is an annual event that LEAP (Lansing Economic Area Partnership) puts on to promote youth entrepreneurship for the schools in the Tri county area (Clinton, Eaton and Ingham). Any student from 6th to 12th grade can submit their idea to This event is a showcase where students have a chance to win money multiple ways as well as build their skill sets and at the same time launch a business. This is our 4th year hosting the event. Last year there were a record breaking number of 200 students participating in the event which formed over 90 businesses. The range and diversity of the businesses at the Youth Startup expo is something to be highlighted.  This years event will take place March 29th 2016 9:30 am to 1:30 pm at the Lansing Center. ​​

How was the Youth Startup Expo Started?
The Youth Startup Expo was started by LEAP four years ago. We wanted a way to highlight all of the creativity and problem solving skill prowls of the K-12 students in the area. Each student submits an executive summary, creates a booth for their business and provides an elevator pitch to the judges.

 Tell us some of the creative ideas from students who presented previous years?
The main winner from the previous year’s YSE was a senior from Grand Ledge High school who enjoyed hunting but noticed that there was a lack of female hunting apparel in the hunting place. So she started a company called Huntress Heaven which specializes in outdoor and casual apparel for women. We have also seen ideas range from handmade instruments, custom t-shirt companies, specialty baked goods and jewelry.
What are some other youth innovation events LEAP will put on this year?
This year LEAP has partnered with Lucas Schrauben from Eaton County RESA and Inspire ED to put on local youth pitch events called “5 Minute Tops”. We held these events at the Boys and Girls club, in Holt, Grand Ledge and have also hosted our regional event at Lansing Community College West Campus in February of 2016. Each student has 5 minutes to pitch their idea for a chance to win up to $500.

Why is it so important for Lansing to encourage future innovation with youth entrepreneurship?

It is very important for Lansing to continue to promote and develop youth entrepreneurial training for many reasons. First being the skill sets a student develops when it comes to exploring youth entrepreneurship are exactly those that every employer wants to see-confidence, problem solving, resourcefulness and diverse collaboration. Secondly, it is no secret that wealth attainment is linked to entrepreneurship. If we want to continue to increase the wealth level as well as diversify the industries within Greater Lansing, we need to invest in those that are willing to be trailblazers and their own CEOs.

You can learn more about The Youth Startup Expo on www.PURELANSING.COM/Youthstartup 
For more information on 5 Minute Tops go to 

About the Author

Ashlee R. Willis

Ashlee R. Willis
Ashlee Willis is the founder of Lansing Mosaic. Her mission is to help highlight small businesses and entrepreneurial partnerships in the Lansing and surrounding areas. Twitter: @ashleewillis100Email:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s