'If I can do this, you, too, can do this,' businessman tells students

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Belleville News Democrat
By: Rickeena J. Richards
June 27, 2010

Jim Allsup is teaching kids that you don't have to come from money to be successful in business

BELLEVILLE -- Jim Allsup, president and chief executive officer of the Belleville-based Allsup Inc., wants to show local students that where they come from is no indication of where they can go professionally.

That's why he is urging them to participate in the 2010 Allsup Inc. Summer Entrepreneurship Academy, a weeklong workshop for high school sophomores, juniors and seniors that teaches them what it takes to start and run a successful business.

"I want to try to share what I learned with kids in the area to show them that if I can do this, you, too, can do this," he said.

Allsup Headquarters off Illinois 15.

The academy is from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 12 through July 16 at Southwestern Illinois College's Belleville Campus at 2500 Carlyle Ave.

For a $25 deposit fee, which students get back once they complete the program, students learn what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. With the help of materials from the National Institute for Youth Entrepreneurship, students discover what an entrepreneur needs to get started, interacting with local entrepreneurs and participating in a business plan competition, in which they pair up, develop a business plan and present it to a panel of judges for prize money.

"It's all about giving kids a glimpse of what it takes to start a business," Allsup said.
Program coordinators are looking for more students to participate in the program, which has been in operation for three to four years. They accept up to 20 students per class but are willing to make more classes to accommodate more students.

Allsup said while students learn business basics, they also get life lessons. He said the first thing he tells the students is: "There are no shortcuts in life. The only shortcuts I know of are illegal, unethical or both." He also stresses to them the importance of letting their passions be the "governing priority" as they pursue careers.

"Your goal is to find something you love, and your primary focus should never be to make a lot of money," he tells the students.

He said the program aims to show students that they don't have to come from money, or even have much of their own, to pursue their passions and become successful professionals. That's why he incorporates into the program a tour of the Cahokia and East St. Louis neighborhoods where he said he grew up in a poor family.

"The theory behind that is instead of me talking about that, I say, 'All right, I'm going to show you you don't necessarily have to have a lot of money to start and grow a successful business,'" he said. "I didn't have any money. I was flat broke and I started with nothing."

In 1984, Allsup began his company, the nation's first private, nationwide service for people applying for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, in a two-room office he rented for $145 a month in downtown Belleville. Since then, the company, which employs about 700 people, has been ranked among the top 500 fastest growing private firms in the country.

Former students Kamara Cox, 17, of Belleville East High School, and Olivia Gada, 14, of Ladue High School, said seeing where Allsup got his start offered them a better perspective of what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

"I think it added that real factor to it," Kamara said. "He showed us that anybody can do it."
"It kind of showed us that (starting a business) is not as hard as it seems," Olivia said.

Kamara and Olivia, both children of Allsup employees, were two of last year's business plan competition winners, Olivia on the team that won first place for its interior decorating business plan, and Kamara on the team that won second place for its plan for a social networking website for military kids.

While the duo hadn't considered being entrepreneurs before, they now realize they can apply a lot of what they learned from the program to their future careers and their lives.

"I didn't know a lot about entreprenuership when I started but afterward, it seems like a pretty good idea," Olivia said.

"I want to grow up and be a pharmacist and have my own pharmacy," Kamara said. "This kind of gives me an idea of what I would need to do to start."

Allsup said in addition to reaching students, he hopes the program will give educators an outlet to offer the students who, rather than being at the top of their class, are often written off as disruptive. He said sometimes those students, such as himself at their ages, simply lack interest in school.

"The entrepreneurial type of kids aren't always the 'A' students," he said. "The teacher may look at that kid as nothing but a troublemaker but in reality, that kid is behaving the way they are because they're not interested in what they're learning."

Allsup said he hopes to expand the program to more college campuses in the area, hopefully establishing an advanced academy at St. Louis University and scholarships for students to pursue entrepreneurship in college.

He said exposing students to entrepreneurship not only benefits them but their communities as well.

"There is nothing more important to a community, to a community's well-being and growth, than entrepreneurship," he said. "Entrepreneurs create jobs. They create employment opportunities. This is one piece of what I want to do over time to foster entrepreneurship. It starts by getting in kids' minds by planting seeds that might not otherwise be planted."

Contact reporter Rickeena J. Richards at rrichards@bnd.com or 239-2562.

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