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The 2008 NASE Future Entrepreneur Scholarship

Saturday, November 01, 2008
When Patrick Kaltenbach left for the National Boy Scout Jamboree in July 2005, he had no idea that it would change his life.
By Jan Norman

The Newtonville, Mass., resident was already a straight-A student at St. Sebastian’s School in Needham and president of the freshman class. He was also a competitive skier and spent weekends on community service such as collecting food for the hungry.

But that ill-fated Jamboree was marred by the death of four adult leaders in a freak accident while pitching a tent and 110-degree temperatures that sickened hundreds of Scouts.

“It was the most frightening experience of my life,” Patrick says. “Struggling against the dizziness of dehydration, surrounded by boys vigorously shaking their friends just to determine if they were conscious. I slipped an arm around a younger Scout but I was barely strong enough to help him.”

Suddenly two soldiers arrived to help. The U.S. military sent troops, helicopters, trucks, ambulances and buses to give emergency treatment to the sick and transport them to hospitals.

“I will never forget their quick and professional action,” Patrick says. “I offered my feeble thanks but I knew this was not enough. It really hit me because just hours earlier I had been chatting with other soldiers about their own scouting experiences. They seemed like kids. Just like me.”

Less than a month later, Patrick watched on television as other U.S. soldiers helped victims of Hurricane Katrina. He took greater interest in stories of U.S. soldiers overseas. He wanted to do something to let them know they were appreciated and not forgotten.

Then he got an idea, based on soldiers’ memories of relishing Boy Scout popcorn heated over a campfire. Why not help them relive those memories by sending them some microwave popcorn?

“Nothing earth shattering, nothing great,” he says. “Yet the older I get the more I realize that it is these small gestures that make life so special.”

Patrick’s business-like approach to the project, which became known as TroopTreats, would make any entrepreneur proud. His hard work, perseverance in the face of opposition, and ability to rally others to his vision no doubt contributed to his selection as recipient of the 2008 NASE Future Entrepreneur Scholarship.

Patrick will receive up to $24,000 toward his education at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. He receives $12,000 in the first year and $4,000 in each of the next three years. It is the largest scholarship of its kind in the U.S. and the only one that promotes the entrepreneurial philosophy.

Even before he launched TroopTreats, Patrick demonstrated his can-do spirit of helpfulness. Hurricane Katrina was just hours old when Patrick called the national Boy Scout office to find out what he could do to help, says his mom, Pat McCarthy, an NASE Member and owner of a high-tech consulting firm.

“Patrick put fliers around the neighborhood to collect items for people in New Orleans,” Pat says. “Patrick thought he would get a box or two, but carts and carts full of products came in.”

His Project Help Now shipped $15,000 worth of needed toiletries to Louisiana. The project also gave Patrick confidence that his more ambitious popcorn-for-soldiers project could work, too.

At first, TroopTreats seemed doomed. Because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, individual overseas shipments addressed to “any soldier” were prohibited for security reasons. Adults told Patrick the project was too complicated, but he persevered and found USO Operation Care Package in Washington, D.C. That group’s support persuaded the local Boy Scout Council to get involved and popcorn manufacturer Trails’ End to ship the popcorn directly to the USO. That not only solved the security problem, it freed TroopTreats of shipping costs.

Patrick wanted TroopTreats to have broad support, so rather than seek large contributions, he asked individuals for just $1. Each dollar sent one bag of popcorn overseas and earned money for local Scout troops, a win-win proposition.

Patrick created posters and fliers. Later he would create stationary, business cards and thank-you postcards, which he paid for with earnings from his summer jobs.

The first weekend Patrick went out fundraising was marked by rain, wind and snow. He was soaked to the skin. Of the 300 people he approached only four would talk to him, and three of those gave him anti-military lectures. But one man stopped, donated a dollar and then said, “Thanks, boys. I just came back from serving. No matter how wet and miserable you feel right now, the guys over there appreciate what you are doing. Your popcorn is really hope. And we live on hope.”

That encouragement kept Patrick going. He gave speeches about TroopTreats to local church groups, developed an e-mail marketing list, wrote press releases and sent photos to the local newspaper. In 2006, 100 volunteers helped him. In 2007, 200 people stepped up.

Patrick developed startup packages including tip sheets to help new volunteers, and he arranged for TroopTreats to participate in city fairs and open-air markets. During the three prime fundraising months, Patrick worked 25 hours a week on the project.

In three years, TroopTreats has sent 40,000 bags of popcorn to military personnel overseas. This year Patrick was named Massachusetts’ top high school volunteer. The Boy Scouts are rolling out a national Support Our Troops program based on TroopTreats.

“It is rare that you will find such a spirit of unselfishness and determination in such a young person,” says Ronald Wise, director of USO Operation Care Package. “Where others shy away from lending a hand, he is very involved in the community.”

But TroopTreats is hardly the extent of Patrick’s achievements. He has been a volunteer tutor for the Boys and Girls Club for five years, founded the robotics club at his school, competed on the math and ski teams at school, and mentored younger Scouts, all while earning a 3.95 grade point average.

“I have not seen a student in my 21 years at St. Sebastian’s who has performed in more extracurricular activities than Patrick,” says Newell Hall, director of college counseling.

This may be just the beginning. Patrick plans to study science and engineering and eventually start his own engineering design firm.

“People often ask if I started TroopTreats for my Boy Scout Eagle project,” he says. “I am not doing TroopTreats for my Eagle Scout rank but because I AM an Eagle Scout. I learned an important lesson: One person truly can make a difference.”


Jan Norman is a frequent contributor to Self-Employed magazine

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