THE PICTURE: Koch Employees Start Nonprofit to Help Student Entrepreneurs

Jun 20, 2022 10:05 AM ET

As another school year ends, many high school and college students will transition to summer jobs. Student Startup, a nonprofit organization in Wichita, Kansas, is preparing young scholars to launch their own businesses.

Joe Woodward and Abe Rodriguez co-founded Student Startup after learning about Principled Entrepreneurship™ as employees at Koch Industries. The concept is based on practicing a philosophy of mutual benefit, creating superior value for customers and society, and being a preferred partner – principles Koch uses to achieve much of its success.

“We experienced the challenges and value of running our own businesses as teenagers and thought more kids could benefit from this knowledge,” Joe said.

Abe and Joe discussed the idea of creating an internship for entrepreneurs for several years while focusing on growing their own careers. “One of our mentors said we were planning too much and needed to start experimenting,” said Joe. “In 2017, we got our 501(c)(3) and started serving two students. Now we’re on track to serve about 100 students this year.”

Student Startup is equipped to give students three things they need to start their own businesses – capital, coaching and customers. The program’s network of volunteers and investors have a shared goal of helping students learn through firsthand work experience. Students can suggest their own business ideas or choose from opportunities such as lawn mowing, babysitting, dog walking, car detailing or other high-trust jobs.

Capital investments include everything from transportation and equipment to required certifications for some businesses. Mentors partner with the students to identify potential barriers to success and work to address those obstacles.

“The reason we call it Student Startup is because this is a launchpad,” said Abe. “This is not where you land and stay. You pick up skills, experiences and move on to the next thing. Our expectation is that when you reach that point, you’re thinking about who’s coming in behind you and you’re handing your business off.”

On average, students participate in Student Startup for about 18 months. Joe noted that some individuals advance even faster. “We had a student who grew a large lawn mowing business. She made several thousand dollars one summer, but mowing wasn’t her passion. She used her earnings to start a photography business based on the same principles. Even though she was only in the program for six months, that was a win.”

Abe expresses similar optimism. “You think about the future, they’re it. When you think about someone who’s going to transform the world, it’s not someone who’s passive. It's not someone who sitting on the sideline. It’s someone who’s rolling up their sleeves, jumping in, finding a need, filling the need. And all of us are going to be better off when that’s happening.”

When asked about the future of Student Startup, Joe said he wouldn’t be surprised if one of their own students takes what they have learned and expands the program into other markets outside of Kansas. “There’s a lot of places where you can take a class about business. Not a lot of places that will actually walk beside you and help you run your own business. We believe the principles students learn as they run a business are the same principles that can be applied to a successful life.”

To learn more about Student Startup and other ways Koch employees have helped their communities through Principled Entrepreneurship, check out this episode of The Picture, a Koch Industries Spotlight Series. All episodes are available to watch at