While most kids were playing tag in the summer sunshine, few were trying to turn a profit on fifty cent lemonade cups sold to their neighbors. But as the ice cream truck sung by, all kids wanted the few extra bucks for that red, white, and blue Mega Missile Popsicle. While most begged their parents for money, the child entrepreneur just shook out part of the cash from his tin can and proudly purchased his own.
If you ask people, most claim to want to be their own boss one day. But figuratively, very few are willing to work lemonade stands instead of playing on monkey bars. It takes a special breed to be able to work while others are playing. Still there are those with an entrepreneurial mindset that have the drive to actually become their own boss. One such businessman is Denver Online High School senior, Garrett Williams.
Nineteen-year-old Williams is the founder of Garret Stopmotion, a multi-media design company. While he has recently expanded into photography, the teen primarily designs videos for clients. He has produced ten music videos to date for clientele from around the world, including one for the American rapper Rawcus, one for an Israel band called On Shoulders of Giants, and another for a band from England.
When the Israel based band asked Williams to create a music video for them, Williams said, “I’ll do anything you want to do with stop animation.” Stop animation allows Williams to use a series of photographed frames played continuously to generate a video that gives the illusion of objects moving on their own. So creatively the band asked for the video to be completely comprised of Legos, a trend that leaked into many of William’s subsequent films.
Stop motion has allowed Williams to fashion unique pieces for each of his customers. “I thought up all the scenes and produced the whole thing,” he said about the Rawcus music video. “I listen to the audio and think of ways to match that,” he said.
The teen has pursued many opportunities to enhance his skills, including a video game programming course at Thomas Jefferson where he created a 3D video. He also earned a scholarship to participate in the two-week long Young Filmmakers program with the Denver Film Society. In Young Filmmakers, he learned film theory and produced a short movie with his team. “I really like the idea of film-making, creating something, making your own world,” he noted.
His business kick-started with a program called Business in a Box, an opportunity provided through a course at CEC Middle College. “They said, ‘Pitch your business idea to us,’” he stated. That’s when Williams came up with Garrett Stopmotion. Within the Business in a Box program, Williams developed a business plan and then met with a mentor once a week to further enhance his strategy. Students competed in the program for the opportunity to have their business launch funded. When it came to giving his final pitch, he said, “At that point, I was already selling videos online. So I had already made the business a reality.” Because of his proven ambitiousness, the student won the Business in a Box competition.
As a result, Williams was given the chance to take part in Denver Business Startup Week. He was selected as a panelist of five entrepreneurs to speak about their experience in developing companies. “The general public who were interested in business came in,” he said. Because of his experience here, he was featured on Colorado Public Radio and Operation HOPE’s blog.
While the teen was a natural at business, school was not always as easy. Williams originally attended a traditional brick-and-mortar high school for two years. With struggling grades, he said, “I got the feeling that the teachers didn’t care too much.” He explained how the educators seemed to allow him to continue to fail with minimal care or communication. Looking for a different option, Williams came to Denver Online High School, also taking advantage of tuition-free concurrent enrollment courses at CEC and the Community College of Denver.
The change in educational paths quickly proved to be positive for him. Starting out with a very poor GPA, he said, “At Denver Online I was working really hard to get it up.” Working with Denver Online teachers and tutors, he said, “My grades improved a lot. Math was my worst subject and then I ended up getting an ‘A’ in it.”
Just as Williams does best as his own boss in the business world, he also excels in the academic world working on his own time at his own pace. “The way I like to work is I like to get things done in chunks,” explaining how he enjoys working for two days straight without breaks.
Because Williams was able to find an academic path that worked for him, the student was able to complete school online while simultaneously working toward post-high school graduation goals. “Denver Online is really good at the college preparedness,” he said. Acknowledging the concurrent enrollment program, he noted, “It gave me enough credits to do ASCENT.” ASCENT, now known as College First, is a program that allows students to enroll in a Colorado community college for an entire year after high school tuition-free. By getting up his grades and pursuing concurrent enrollment while at Denver Online, Williams was able to complete the requirements to apply for the College First program, including earning a 2.0 GPA or higher and completing at least twelve college credits by the end of his senior year. Once Williams is done with College First, he plans to transfer to a state college to major in a film related area.
Amidst college classes in his future, the emerging entrepreneur also will work with a Utah based video production company. While his current business is small and does not yet yield a livable profit, he has big goals for his career, saying, “If I had to choose anything, I’d be a business owner at a film studio.” Looking at his existing portfolio, he already is well on his way to making that dream a reality.
Not all students were designed to be entrepreneurs. But for those who were, the right educational avenue can have a huge impact on the student’s ability to build a successful future.
Why force students to play on the merry-go-round when they’d rather be working? Why require students to stay inside a high school classroom when they do best in a college setting? Why limit a student to homework instead of allowing them the flexibility to apply their education to the real world?
Denver Online High School works to give students like Williams the ability to flourish, both inside and outside of the academic setting. Because as Williams would tell you, whether it’s ice cream, college, or a business, it’s so much sweeter when an individual has the opportunity to accomplish it on their own.
We all can toast (some lemonade) to that.