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  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Davonta Beckham wears a hoodie he has designed at his Fort Wayne home. Beckham, 24, has turned his art into a business – Art of Beckham.

  • Cale Hall

  • Chase Hall

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Davonta Beckham folds one of his "Art of Beckham" hoodies in his home in Fort Wayne on Wednesday February 20, 2019.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Art of Beckham by Davonta Beckham clothing items are laid out in his home on Wednesday February 20, 2019.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Davonta Beckham with "Art of Beckham" looks through his sketchbook in his home in Fort Wayne on Wednesday February 20, 2019.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Davonta Beckham shows off one of his "Art of Beckham" illustrations that feature his characters in his home in Fort Wayne on Wednesday February 20, 2019.

Sunday, February 24, 2019 1:00 am

Young entrepreneurs turn to their passions

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Business Sense

This is part of an occasional series of stories highlighting mostly teens and 20-somethings who have started their own business. The articles focus on entrepreneurs who connected with established organizations that mentor or provide funding, including Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana and the Farnsworth Fund.

It's art. And it's business. Davonta Beckham is the creative mind behind it.

The 24-year-old has created artwork and designed T-shirts, hoodies and other items featuring characters, including a light bulb named Idea, that focus on “dreams, happiness and well being.” He's branding his work under the business name Art of Beckham.

“I remember when I sold my first illustration, I was like 'Wow, really this could be much, much more,'” Beckham said.

He was a recipient last year of a micro-grant from the Farnsworth Fund, which supports new and student entrepreneurs. 

Cale and Chase Hall, brothers and seniors at Trine University in Angola, have turned their interest in fishing into a revenue generator. Their business, H3 Baits, specializes in jigs and artificial baits for freshwater bass fishing.

They won first place – and a $3,000 prize – in this month's business division of the Innovation Challenge, Trine announced last week. 

“It's not really a legal business yet, but just something we do for fun,” said Cale Hall, 22, a business administration major. “But hopefully pretty soon we'll try to make it a legal business and put our product out there to sale.”

Beckham and the Halls are among the young adults in northeast Indiana whose creativity, technical and business savvy are being recognized by people who can provide feedback and financial resources.

Even when funding isn't on the table, dozens of business leaders are providing guidance to a younger generation. Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana this month began the second round of a 100+ Entrepreneurs Campaign, sending executives into area classrooms to talk about the importance of innovation and business creation. The first week of the campaign was in mid-November.

While the Halls haven't legally formalized their business, they have sold products – Cale estimates about 200 items – through word of mouth.

Chase Hall, a 20-year-old management major at Trine, said he decided to start making his own baits so he didn't “have to run to the store.”

H3 Baits would like to offer subscription tackle boxes and sell its products through retailers, Chase Hall said. The money from the Innovation Challenge will help the brothers get a website developed.

The competition, which included several other winners, is funded by a $100,000 gift from Fifth Third Bank, Greater Indiana.

“They have individuals drive up from Indianapolis and serve on our business panel and have spoke to previous winners in the past about how to begin the financial journey of entrepreneurship,” said Jason Blume, executive director of Innovation One at Trine. The department at Trine focuses on using university resources to network and initiatives to strengthen the region, including entrepreneurs.

Blume said the competition can help guide and mentor youths who might succeed as business owners, rather than expecting “people to just dive out there as an adult and experience it.”

The first-place win in the innovation competition was a nice surprise, Chase Hall said, while adding that he and his brother were confident in their business concept.

“I knew we had a good chance, just because we put a lot of work into it, but yeah, I guess we were both kind of surprised when we actually won,” he said. “We plan on trying to expand.”

So does Beckham, a graduate student at Indiana Tech. He left Dayton to enroll at Indiana Tech as an undergraduate on a track scholarship. He had a foot injury that interrupted his athletic path, but graduated from the college in 2017 with a marketing degree. Now he is working on a master's degree in the same concentration.

Most of Beckham's art is hand-drawn, but he has done painting.

Along with “Idea,” his characters include “Dream” and “The Frosters” – people who can find the sweet side of life.

“I've been an artist since I was like 5; always loved art,” Beckham said last week. 

He credits Steve Franks, program manager for the Farnsworth Fund, for seeing the commercialization potential of his artwork when they crossed paths at a local event where Beckham was doing a presentation.

“I wanted something I could call my own. I wanted something people could look at and say. 'This is Davonta Beckham's work.'”

Now, Beckham said, he's gone “from just a kid doing art to a brand.”

Along with various speaking engagements, creating art and items to sell, Beckham said he is interning for a medical malpractice insurance company that is part of Berkshire Hathaway.

He's working on a children's book, likely to be titled “If You Knew You Could Fly,” to be self-published this year.

The book features the light bulb character Idea, who has an injury but also ambition and wants to fly. Despite adversity, Idea gets some encouragement from another character who helps him overcome the setback.

“The word 'fly' is more about believing in your dream,” Beckham said. “It's been something that's really special to me, and I'm excited to finish it.”

Speaking of ambition, Beckham thinks he can manage being an artist, a creator, a storyteller and book illustrator.

“To me,” Beckham said, “my brand is multisegmented.” 

lisagreen@jg.net