Arel Moodie has a passion for entrepreneurship. He was still in college when he founded his first company, a Web site to help fellow students find off-campus housing, roommates and sublets. Now 26, Moodie is a business lecturer at his alma mater in New York and a regular on the national speaking circuit. He's also been featured in two books and profiled by national and local news media.
But Moodie is quick to point out that nothing he's accomplished is beyond the reach of his peers.
"Usually, you go to entrepreneurship conferences and the speakers are the Steve Forbeses of the world, somebody in their 50s or 60s," he said. "A lot of young people see them and say, 'That's hot. Twenty years from now I'll think about doing something like that.'
"What we want to do is flip the paradigm and say, 'You could start right now and really be successful.'"
The "we" would be Moodie and partners Sheena Lindahl, 27, and Michael Simmons, 28, published authors and co-founders of the Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour. That's a traveling business conference that is coming to Bakersfield College Thursday. Almost all the speakers are people in their 20s and 30s who are running their own businesses.
Supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce and the Kern Community College District's Business Assistance Center, the program is designed for college students, but anyone can go. It's free and open to the public.
Business Assistance Center director Jessica Chapman said she hopes the conference will return to Bakersfield annually.
"I have some grant money to support youth entrepreneurship, and I think this brings tremendous value to the Central Valley," she said.
Bakersfield College sophomore Robert Shoaf is the program director for the Bakersfield stop of the tour, which has visited 140 schools since the event's founding in 2006.
He said he was excited about the program from the first moment he learned of it.
"It's just awesome," Shoaf said. "We've all had moments where we said to ourselves, 'You know, I could do this a whole lot better than it's being done now,' but you just have to take that first step.
"This shows you how to do it."
The conference features hands-on workshops that will focus on such topics as translating a dream into an "action plan," and step-by-step testimonials from young people running profitable companies. There's also a "speed networking" session to force attendees to get to know each other and share their ideas.
"We want people to leave there going, 'I can complain about the economy and the lack of jobs, or I can get creative and figure out how to find a business model that makes money," Moodie said. "We want them to see other people who've done it and say, 'I can do this.'"