The Horn Program's Julie Frieswyk discusses the new Paul and Linda McConnell Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative.

Supporting young entrepreneurs

Gift supports Horn Program's youth entrepreneurship initiative


1:50 p.m., Nov. 6, 2014--Last week the University of Delaware’s Horn Program in Entrepreneurship announced a gift from alumnus Paul McConnell, a member of the Class of 1974, and his wife, Linda, to support and expand youth entrepreneurship programming. 

The commitment will create the Paul and Linda McConnell Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative, which aims to raise awareness of entrepreneurship as a viable career path and engage youth in world-class educational programming. 

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“We want to provide all high school students, especially Delawareans, with an outstanding opportunity to develop entrepreneurial knowledge and skills,” said Dan Freeman, director of the Horn Program. “We are grateful to Paul and Linda for their support because we know how important it is for young people to learn about how to be entrepreneurial and innovation-ready if they are going to be successful in their careers.”

The Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative supports the Diamond Challenge for High School Entrepreneurs, a new Youth Entrepreneurship Summit (YES!), expanded training programs for teachers and opportunities for youth to be exposed to new technologies.

“Linda’s and my commitment to the Horn Program represents the realization of our passion to get young people interested in innovation and entrepreneurship,” McConnell said. “Most kids, given an opportunity to pursue their dreams, will amaze you with what they can do.”

“One important goal of the youth entrepreneurship initiative is to level the playing field for all,” said Julie Frieswyk, coordinator of youth and external programs for the Horn Program. “This means that students are judged solely on their ideas, creativity, hard work, persistence and other controllable factors, not by where they go to school or where they live.”

“It gives youth an understanding of the value of their unique approaches to solving problems,” said Frieswyk. “This is the true value of entrepreneurship -- the idea that anyone can rise to the challenge of creating a great new product or solution, and in doing so take control of their own economic future.”

In addition to financial support, the McConnell’s gift comes with a pledge to continue building on the nascent collaboration between the Horn Program and one of Paul McConnell’s initiatives, 1313 Innovation. 

A byproduct of this collaboration is an event will be held on Saturday, Nov. 21, during Global Entrepreneurship Week. The event will bring together young people from around the region to tour 1313 Innovation and to meet with and learn from community mentors and successful entrepreneurs.

Diamond Challenge

The Diamond Challenge for High School Entrepreneurs serves as the cornerstone of the Paul and Linda McConnell Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative. The Diamond Challenge is an innovative business concept competition that aims to teach participants how to build their businesses like scientists by gathering evidence to test the validity of business model assumptions. It aims to spark imaginations and promote the development of an entrepreneurial mindset. 

Students who participate are guided by a custom online video curriculum which addresses opportunity recognition, idea generation, systematic testing and validation of ideas, marketing fundamentals, important financial concepts like revenues, costs, margins and how to develop a compelling narrative about a business idea.

McConnell has been actively involved with the Diamond Challenge since its launch in 2012. In addition, other partner organizations such as StartUpAfrica and Invento of Moldova have taken the Diamond Challenge to an international level.

Frieswyk said the global component is unique and valuable to the Initiative in that students learn about different markets and problems that need solutions in different parts of the world.

“A student in America may one day choose to start a social enterprise serving African communities, while a Kenyan student may decide to learn programming skills as they understand the viability of a new market,” said Frieswyk. “The Diamond Challenge opens a new world — and I mean that literally — of opportunity for these young people.”

According to Freeman, the three-year vision for the Diamond Challenge is to continue to build a national and international network of regional and virtual competitions, all of which would send their top teams to compete in a final round at UD. 

Registration for this year’s Diamond Challenge is open through Nov. 7. Currently over 200 teams from 5 states and 5 countries are registered to submit their ideas for businesses and social enterprises. Participating youth will pitch their ideas at preliminary round events in March. The final round will take place as a part of the Youth Entrepreneurship Summit on April 30. 

Engagement opportunities 

The Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative’s other components involve creating opportunities for youths to engage with UD and the Horn Program in Entrepreneurship, as well as the Delaware business community. 

Since 2012, when students from Glasgow High School were involved with the UD President’s Forum on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Horn Program has continued to provide opportunities, including hosting school groups at the newly constructed Venture Development Center (VDC), and making visits to classrooms around the region to talk with young people and educators about entrepreneurial education.

In the future, the Horn Program plans to bring more youth through their VDC workshops and events, as well as facilitate job shadowing and tours of community spaces, like Start It Up Delaware, The coIN Loft and 1313 Innovation in Wilmington. 

Expanding impact

The Paul and Linda McConnell Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative has already impacted hundreds of young people in the region, and internationally in Kenya and Moldova, through participation in the Diamond Challenge and other Horn Program events.

“For many students, participation in entrepreneurial education programming will be life-changing,” said Freeman. 

The Horn Program welcomes additional supporters or corporate partners interested in youth entrepreneurship initiatives to contact Julie Frieswyk by email at

Article by Stefanie Spatola

Photos by Duane Perry

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