BELOIT—Beloit native Jay Edwards is a man driven by a passion for helping build up area communities by supporting young entrepreneurs.

The founder of Innovate Culture will host a free business networking event on Thursday in Beloit to highlight economic growth through innovation.

The event will be held from 6—8 p.m. at the Eclipse Center, 3 Eclipse Center., Beloit.

Edwards founded Innovate Culture in 2018, and since then he’s built up a small team with a big goals of sustaining economic development through the networking and promotion of young people’s business ideas.

“It’s so important for me because I dropped out of college six times,” Edwards said. “I was doing fine in school, but I realized it just wasn’t for me. I liked the freedom of my own time and I think as culture changes, more people want to be their own bosses. We’re here to help show young people how to work within a business or how to create something on their own.”

Next week’s expo will feature a panel discussion of marketing professionals from Evolution, a Wisconsin-based company specializing in storytelling, creative design and ethical marketing.

Accompanying the panel discussion will be a pitch competition by area high school students who will bring business ideas to various judges for a chance to win a $500 micro-grant for future business development and be the face of Innovate Culture’s 2021 magazine. All participants will receive mentorship opportunities from area business leaders, Edwards said.

“It’s much bigger than just having a business idea,” Edwards said. “Not every student is going to go to college. College isn’t for everyone, but money is.”

The upcoming event in Beloit will mark Innovate Culture’s largest conference to-date, and will be followed by similar events in Florida, Michigan, New York and Texas.

“It’s vital to include young people in the process because young people are the next up so to speak,” Edwards said. “They are going to be the one’s starting organizations in the next two decades and we want to foster that development. By investing in them, we are helping further economic development in our city and in their communities that create real opportunities.”

To register for the event, visit www.eventbrite.co.nz/e/2021-innovation-conference-tickets-149594454039.