Youth Symposium grounds students in the basics and then takes them to space


One of the highlights of the EnterCircle entrepreneurship and business summit is its Youth Symposium, this year held on Thursday, Nov. 16.

Students from four high school career academies in St. Johns County were brought to the link to hear from speakers on a host of topics, including some solid advice on crafting their futures. The school district’s Career and Technical Education department helped arrange the students’ participation.

The Rev. Rich Pagano, pastor of St. John Paul II Catholic Church in Nocatee, spoke on “How to Find Purpose as a Teen.”

Nick Crouch, co-founder and co-CEO for DYNE Hospitality Group, gave the students something to think about with his presentation, “Why I Became the Largest Tropical Smoothie Café Franchise Owner in the USA.”

Attendees also heard from Frank Benedetto, co-founder of The Honey Badger Project, a health care business incubator, and Scott Maynard, St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce vice president for economic development, who spoke on “Finding Your Career in St. Johns County.”

Jay Owen, owner and CEO of Business Builders, gave the students solid advice in his presentation, “Charting Your Own Course: Finding Purpose in Business and Life.”

Marc Montemerlo, senior marine compliance engineer for SpaceX, probably stole the show with his presentation, which included video of a series of rockets exploding.

Montemerlo served in the U.S. Coast Guard for 21 years, and then two years ago, he began his career with SpaceX, which was founded in 2002 and had its first launch four years later.

SpaceX has fired the imagination of many with its Falcon 9 two-stage rocket, which has been launched and recovered more than 200 times, making it the first reusable rocket.

“How did SpaceX get there?” Montemerlo asked rhetorically. “We failed miserably so many times. But the good news was, we just kept going. We just kept going.”

In fact, Montemerlo’s presentation was a lesson on tenacity and patience, two qualities that could prove helpful to anyone starting a new career.

Montemerlo explained the significance of recovering and reusing rockets.

“Before SpaceX, everybody was just launching their rockets and not recovering anything,” he said. “They were wasting millions of dollars to put the smallest size object into space.”

He gave his young audience a glimpse of the careers of the future, saying that smaller rocket companies would need engineers, technicians and just workers to compete in the industry.

“The future is in space,” he said. “I firmly believe that.”

Rockets, he said, are needed to deliver cargo, crew and satellites into space.

Montemerlo’s next big goal is figuring out how to recover SpaceX’s biggest rocket, Starship, at sea.

Concurrent with the talks, the students took part in breakout sessions.

Maarten Rotman, entrepreneurial education manager at the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship, led one titled “Healthcare Problems: It’s Not Complicated. But It Should Be.”

Emily Skywark, strategy manager at CVS Health, led another titled “Design Thinking for Rapid Innovation.”

Executive Adam Lowe spoke on “Dollars and Dreams Masterclass: Designing Your Ultimate Financial Game Plan.”

The students participated in a pitch competition and networking with refreshments.