Recent DCHS graduate Fanny Ochoa continued a Dodge City tradition by taking first in a youth entrepreneurship competition.

With a business plan for a tattoo shop with a medical focus, recent Dodge City High School graduate Fanny Ochoa continued a Dodge City tradition by winning the Youth Entrepreneurs Final Flyers contest in Wichita.

Along with the honor of presenting the best business plan, Ochoa received $2,500 on top of the $750 she won as the runner-up in the regional contest last month.

She has always had a passion for art, but she didn't know how to turn that into a way to earn a living, the 18-year-old Ochoa said. In the last year, art teacher Darlene Smith helped her focus her artistic talents and a senior capstone class on entrepreneurship helped her turn an idea into a business plan.

"I really wanted to do something with tattoos and I wanted to do something with art. I wanted people to see it the way I saw it, I guess."

The business idea came to her when her mother was diagnosed with cancer in June, Ochoa said. Her mother, like other patients receiving radiation therapy, has had alignment marks tattooed to her skin.

The idea emerged as a concept called "Colorblind Ink." Ochoa will attend her first year of college at Dodge City Community College and then plans to transfer to Wichita State University business and entrepreneurship program. She has each step planned out and hopes to open her business in her mid-twenties after getting practical experience working as a tattoo artist during her studies.

Tattoo parlors are generally exceedingly clean places, Ochoa said, though the public perception differs. With her business concept, she "wanted the public to see it as a clean environment, a safe place to be. That would help the public both emotionally and physically."

Other applications for medical tattooing are to replace bracelets listing allergies and medical conditions, or as part of a healing process where patients and survivors can express their life and their struggle through skin art. Patients who have had reconstructive surgeries, such as after a mastectomy, also seek out specialist artists.

The $3,250 she won through the Youth Entrepreneurs competition will be set aside to help her with startup costs when the time comes, Ochoa said.

Entrepreneurship as a focus of study is a growing trend in American education in an era where small businesses are seen as the essential innovative engine to the economy.

"Entrepreneurship is truly the foundation of our country," said DCHS entrepreneurship teacher Melody Head. "Through capitalism, the way our country is supposed to work, it has to have entrepreneurs."

Ochoa took the senior capstone class taught by DCHS teacher Julie Stegman. The goal of the class is to introduce students to the many facets of creating and running a successful business, building on their existing talents with other lessons such as finance, promotion and marketing.

A lot of it is about helping her students understand their own strengths and weaknesses, and recognizing which parts of a business they would be best served by bringing in expert help.

The goal isn't necessarily to see every high school graduate start a business, but "we're planting seeds," Head said and making sure resources are available.

Through the class, Ochoa was connected with Wichita State's Growing Rural Business program, a program administered locally with the help of the Ford County and Dodge City Development Corporation.

"It opens up the entrepreneur mindset and teaches you how you can grow with it," Ochoa said. Through it she met experts and current business owners taking the courses. The biggest help was in understanding promotion and advertising, she said.

It was clear Ochoa was serious about entrepreneurship and eager to take in everything offered beyond the classroom, Head said. She was the only student this year to complete the entirety of the Growing Rural Business seminars.

She said help in developing her public speaking skills with the help of debate teach coach Steve Ray was also a boon in her success in the competition.

"I used to be embarrassed to talk in front of people. Now I like it," she said.

The success rate for new businesses is fairly low, but successful entrepreneurs will be able to pick themselves up after difficulties, Head said. "It's not just about opening the door and making it work, it takes a lot of effort and planning." But those with the entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to do the work can make it work.

And ultimately it's not just about starting a business, Ochoa said, but finding a way for her to sustainably engage the world in a way that helps people. For her, she hopes, that will be through tattoos.

"We all have our different forms of what we believe is beautiful," she said. People with tattoos are sometimes perceived as social misfits; she hopes her work will "invoke people to see beyond the surface."