By: Jennifer Chick
July 13, 2010
HOLDREGE - Tomorrow's business owners huddle around a table excitedly sharing their ideas for making money and starting their own businesses.
These aren't a group of college graduates or employees ready to branch out on their own. These future business owners aren't even in high school yet.
They range in age from 10 to 13 and are part of the 4-H and YMCA of the Prairie Biz Kids class. They still need their parents' permission to open checking accounts, but they are ready to make a leap into business ownership.
For the past six weeks, the 15 youths have been meeting every Wednesday at the Holdrege YMCA with Biz Kids instructor Janita Pavelka to work through turning a business idea into reality.
The class was promoted as a youth entrepreneurship camp, but participants also enroll in the 4-H EntrepreneurShip Investigation project. During the Phelps County Fair, the kids will sell their goods at the 4-H Biz Kids Expo from 5-7 p.m. July 26 and 28.
"It's always rewarding, even if they only sell a couple bucks worth, if they can cover their ingredients," Pavelka said.
Ideas have ranged from personalized basketballs to lint fire starters and from beaded silverware to baked goods.
Tim Blank, 13, the son of Jeanne Blank of Holdrege, has a unique green business idea. He uses dryer lint and turns it into fire starters. He also makes candles.
"I'll give people my cards, and they can give me their old dryer lint and their old candles, their old jars," he said.
Christine McCormick, 11, uses phragmites to make unique pens and jewelry. Her twin sister, Caylin, makes Happy Horse Treats. The girls are the daughters of Robert and Michelle McCormick of Holdrege.
Grady Johnson, 10, brought a batch of cookies to share with the class as it discussed customer service. He wants to start a business selling baked goods.
Participants agreed he had a winning recipe, and Grady supplied his slogan.
"They are a party in your mouth," he said.
The kids donned wigs and costumes as they role-played how to be good business people while dealing with eccentric customers. Many said those customer service pointers stuck with them.
"Even if you are mad at someone else, you can't let that get in the way," said Grace Schrock, 12, the daughter of Tom and Melanie Schrock of Holdrege.
Many of the entrepreneurs said their parents suggested they enroll in the camp. Felicia Knoerzer, 10, of Elwood said her dad, Bryant, himself an entrepreneur, thought she should try the class.
"It's career development for these kids," said Linda Dannehl, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension assistant for Phelps and Gosper counties. "It's starting a pattern of thinking about being an entrepreneur."
Parents were a big part of the Biz Kids class. Pavelka kept in touch with parents through weekly e-mails and let them know what the young people were expected to have ready for the next week's class.
"If they learn early what they are good at and what they are interested in, that develops into lifelong interests that can be part of career development," said Leslie Crandall, UNL Extension educator for Phelps and Gosper Counties.
During the camp, Pavelka walked the students through subjects such as figuring start-up costs and promotion. She encouraged them to look at all avenues as they developed their business plan.
"You will find business people who are very excited and will bend over backwards to help young entrepreneurs," she told the class. "Business people are very encouraging."
Pavelka, an entrepreneur herself whose four children all operate their own businesses, started her first business decorating cakes while in high school.
Adults will provide real-world advice and feedback at a trial expo from 1-3 p.m. Wednesday at the YMCA.
Lex Swanson, 12, the son of Darrin and Lori Swanson of Holdrege, wants to turn his baked goods into a business that he might be able to sell at places such as the farmer's market. He's toying with the name "Yummy in My Tummy Baked Goods" but hasn't made up his mind just yet.
"I can expand on this one idea to make a whole entire business chain when I get older," he said.
"They are sure excited and engaged in the class," Dannehl said. "They've got great ideas. They are so creative."
And, without the pressure of paying living expenses, the kids can focus on the more intrinsic benefits of owning their own business.
"I love to make candles," Tim said. "I love to make people happy."