Teen Entrepreneurs: Student uses prize money to share his love of music

Henry Clay High School sophomore and owner of Dreamstrings, Inc., William Eliot Smith. PHOTO BY EMILY MOSELEY

In July, a new organization joined the ranks of nearly 18,000 nonprofits in Kentucky. But, unlike most of those other nonprofits, this new organization is run by a 15-year-old.

William Eliot Smith, a sophomore at Henry Clay High School, is the owner and incorporator of Dreamstrings, Inc., a nonprofit devoted to collecting unwanted musical instruments, refurbishing them and distributing them to students in need.

Smith is a typical high-school student who plays on the Henry Clay tennis team, dabbles in stock trading with guidance from his dad, and loves playing music on his hand-me-down electric guitar. He attends the Henry Clay Liberal Arts Academy for gifted and talented students.

Earlier this year, an assignment he completed for his freshman Advanced Academy Citizenship class was entered in the 22nd annual Secretary of State’s essay contest by his teacher. His entry won first place in the ninth-grade essay competition. His essay was about government regulation of speech in the context of elections. The $1,500 award was presented by Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, thanks to sponsors Houchens Industries, KEA Retired, Turner Construction, the University of Kentucky Scripps Howard First Amendment Center and US Bank.

While most teenagers would put the prize money in a college fund, spend it at the electronics store or use it for a down payment on a car someday, Smith knew immediately he wanted to use it to share his love of music with other students who may not have the means to buy musical instruments. Secretary Grimes advised him on how to incorporate Dreamstrings, Inc., and in July, she walked him through the process, including Smith’s difficult decision of coming up with a business name.

“It’s great to see young Kentuckians who are engaged in and supporting their communities and the state,” said Grimes. “With driven students like Eliot leading the way, I know Kentucky’s best and brightest days are ahead.”

Smith credits his uncle, David M. Smith, who passed away a few years ago, as his inspiration for creating Dreamstrings. David Smith was recognized in 2007 with a Technical GRAMMY Award, given to individuals who make contributions of outstanding technical significance to the recording industry. In honor of his uncle, Smith said, “I wanted to give back to the community and those around me.”

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