Zak Slayback thinks big — about education, business, and the future. The 2012 Somerset Area High School graduate-turned-Ivy-league-dropout is doing his best to disrupt traditional ideas about pathways to success. And he wants more young people to join him.
“Now, if I wanted to go raise millions of dollars, I probably could,” says Zak. “But if I wanted to start something when I was living in Somerset County, I wouldn’t have been able to raise anything besides what I could get from family and friends.”
Zak is filling that gap with the Slayback Grant for Young Entrepreneurs. The grant targets 16-22-year-olds who have a viable business model, proof-of-concept, and who want to work full-time on their business. There’s a preference for applicants from western Pennsylvania, especially from small cities like Somerset.
The Community Foundation for the Alleghenies will administer the Slayback Young Entrepreneurs Fund with an inaugural distribution in Spring 2018. Initial grants will total $2,000 – one $1,000 grant, and two $500 grants; amounts that could make or break a startup, in need of everything from payroll, to office supplies, to marketing.
According to Zak, “A lot of the time, for a young person starting a company in rural areas, what they needed to keep them invested in the company, was just $500 or $100. It’s really psychological.”
He knows what he’s talking about. Still in his early 20s, Zak has already started a handful of his own companies, and is nationally recognized as a thought leader in education reform. With the Slayback Grant, Zak is taking what he’s learned so far and turning it into opportunity for other young people like himself: ambitious, smart, and ready to contribute. He believes strongly that the best way to rebuild rural economies suffering from manufacturing decline and brain drain is to encourage these young entrepreneurs to stay home and start their own companies.
“When people have good paying jobs, they tend not to destroy themselves, whether that’s through drugs, alcohol, or just not improving themselves. When people have jobs they enjoy and are producing value for themselves and their families. They build communities instead of letting them go to waste.”
Zak is based in Pittsburgh now, and his business adventures are bi-coastal. His upbringing, travels, and experience, combine for a world view that’s uncommonly wise — and filled with hope.
“I think the thing that Silicon Valley lacks — for all of its optimism and ambition to change the world, which I love and attracts me to it — is the work ethic that built America and can still be found in traces in the Midwest and the Rustbelt. Combining the ambition of Silicon Valley with the work ethic of the Rustbelt is a powerful combination and something of which I would like to see more.”
With the Slayback Grant for Young Entrepreneurs, Zak creates a breeding ground where that ambition and work ethic come together, giving space to a new generation to create a new economy.