Summer business camp inspires young entrepreneurs

Thursday, July 17, 2014 | 8:45 p.m. CDT
From left: Taylor Plunkett, 15, describes her idea for a charitable custom T-shirt company to judges Pete Beard, Nestor Santos and Luis Jimenez during the Build-a-Business Camp in Columbia on Thursday. Plunkett saw her experience at the camp as a stepping stone to one day owning her own business. "I want to be able to take my ideas and turn them into something," she said.

COLUMBIA — On Wednesday, with a day left to go in the Build-a-Business Camp and its culminating "Youth Biz Idea Pitch Competition," 16 students made their way from table to table at the Bond Life Sciences Center, discussing business and entrepreneurship with Columbia-area business professionals.

"It’s kind of like speed dating, in a way," Steven Henness, program director for the camp, said over the buzz of conversation.

The camp is a summer program for students ages 12 to 18 that is organized by the Missouri 4-H Center for Youth Development and MU Extension. The program is designed to teach campers the basics of business and entrepreneurship, as well as important life skills and leadership.

Now in its seventh year, the camp was created in response to growing interest from the community, Henness said.

The program was one of seven Summers @ Mizzou camps being held this week and next across campus and across disciplines.

Henness said almost two-thirds of high school students surveyed by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and other sources said their goal was to own their own business one day.

The camp lasts four days, with each day revolving around a different theme and challenge. Henness broke their schedule down this way:

  • Day one — Find it: Students brainstormed business ideas they could pitch during the final day's pitch competition.
  • Day two — Build it: Students learned how to take their idea forward.
  • Day three — Sell it: Students took to the streets and interacted with people to learn about customer service and on-site promotions. Henness said talking with strangers was an important step in helping them build confidence in themselves and their ideas.

Then came the final day and the pitch competition. In Cornell Hall on Thursday afternoon, the campers pitched their cupcake companies and snack truck ventures to a panel of three judges, as well as an audience of their families and camp staff.

Ronald Franklin

Ronald Franklin, 14, presents his business pitch to a panel of judges on the last day of the Build-a-Business Camp in Columbia on Thursday. Franklin, who hopes to be a motivational speaker when he gets older, proposed an after-school program for children. | J. EVAN ARNOLD/Missourian

Ronald Franklin, a 14-year-old who attends West Middle School, pitched his business plan for youth mentoring, an idea that evolved from his desire to be a motivational speaker.

As part of the presentation, Franklin fielded the judges' questions. When asked why he would want to open a mentoring business, he said, "I would want other people to help me just as I would want to help them."

After he finished, Franklin, high-fiving smiling camp staffers as he went, walked back to his table from the front of the room.

Later, Franklin explained the thinking behind his plan.

"Kids like to talk to other kids about problems. They don’t like to talk to grown-ups about problems because they think they might get in trouble," he said. "With Adolescents, which is the name of my business, I think that it will be good for me to learn from them as much as it is good for them to learn from me."

Franklin said that he was a little nervous when he stepped up for the pitch but that it got a lot easier as he talked about his idea.

The camp helped teach him a lot, he said, including how to manage and promote a business and how to succeed in life.

"I think the group work helped me the most because it taught me how to work with others as much as it taught others to work with me," Franklin said.

Havlynn Stapleton, a 15-year-old Battle High School student, pitched her idea for recycling old clothes and making them into new products. She said the camp taught her how to start her own business and was "a stepping stone in life."

Before the winners and runner-ups were chosen, each camper was called up to receive a camp diploma, which had an empty space for each camper to fill with his or her first dollar earned in a future business.

First-place winners in both age divisions won youth business startup kits, which included books and tools for young entrepreneurs. The student who earned the most points in his age division, Hunter Hedgepath of Jefferson City, received an Amazon Kindle Fire HD.

Henness said helping the students become contributors to their communities was an important aspect of the camp, one he hopes they will take with them.

"They can provide that babysitting business, they can provide that cupcake business, that custom T-shirt business that is meeting a need in their community, that's showing adults who sometimes can be skeptical of teenagers that there is a lot of positive things going on," he said. "Youth want to be involved and be a part of the solution."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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