Entrepreneur program cultivates business skills for Prep middle-schoolers

Middle school students at St. John’s Preparatory School in Collegeville learned valuable lessons this semester as part of an elective course on entrepreneurship.

The goal of the class, taught by Dan Stark, is to teach organization, management of funds, public speaking, time management and how to work with nonprofit organizations.

Eighth graders Cole Glomski (right) and Jack Skahen put their green thumbs to work by potting a plant for a customer. (Photo by Paul Middlestaedt/The Visitor)

The program encouraged students to develop their own products, which they then sold at school events and, most recently, at the St. Cloud Farmers Market May 13.

“It was great watching all of the enthusiasm coming from the students at SJP,” said Kelly Haws, Prep parent and vice president of the St. Cloud Farmers Market.

“It was hard to tell who was having more fun, the students themselves or the community members at their booth. The students have learned so much about how to work together to come up with a unique and quality product and then share what they have produced with the community,” she said.

The middle-schoolers were part of the St. Cloud Farmers Market’s newly-launched “Starving Artist Guest Vendors” program which allows budding entrepreneurs or artists who are making something themselves to have a free week of selling at the market.

Product development

The course began in January with five groups of students researching ideas about possible products they could make and sell on a limited budget.

They conducted surveys and interviewed potential customers.

In the style of the popular television show “Shark Tank,” students presented their ideas to Stark and other faculty.

Once their products were approved, students were given micro-loans of up to $50 to develop their product; the loans were paid back from their sales.

Students also studied nonprofit organizations, and each group selected a charity to receive the remaining profits.

The “businesses” included:

  •  A and V Accessories, which sells salt and pepper shakers and coasters, with the proceeds going to Feeding America;
  •  Collegeville Candles, which sells  glass jar candles, with the proceeds going to the Starlight Children’s Foundation;
  • Bath Bombs and Beyond, which sells bath bombs in colors representing different types of cancer support, with the proceeds going to     Coborn’s Cancer Center;
  • Sole City Flowers, which sells potted flowers, with the proceeds going to the Rainforest Foundation; and
  • LSM Chess, which makes no-waste wooden chess pieces, with proceeds going to The Nature Conservancy.

The students sold their products at the farmers market on two Saturday mornings.

“The market is great because they are selling to the general public, not just to family and friends,” Stark said. “At first, they were a little anxious but the second weekend they were more relaxed.”

Valeriya Woodard is one of the students in the program. She and her partner, Alton Mies, chose to make kitchen accessories because they both like to cook. Using wood, a wood burning kit and corks, Woodard and Mies made salt and pepper shakers. They also made decorated coasters using basswood and ink.

“When I sold our products at the farmers market, I had such a good feeling. It was an enjoyable time because I hung out with friends and learned how things rolled and how to sell,” she said.

Students from St. John’s Preparatory School tidy up their display of items they created as part of an entrepreneur class. The proceeds they collected will go to a non profit of their choice. (Photo by Paul Middlestaedt/The Visitor)

“One thing I learned from this amazing experience is that if you are shy and quiet, you need to learn how to talk and put yourself out there. The way to attract customers is to talk and smile and be friendly; you can’t expect that people are just going to walk up to your stand. You have to welcome them,” she said.

Xinyi Jiang was part of the group called Collegeville Candles.

“[We] chose to make candles because we thought that we could target a wide market of customers such as teenagers and mothers. We also chose candles because we already loved them,” Jiang said.

She, too, was nervous about selling the products, but said it became easier over time.

“From this class, I was able to learn a lot about managing finances. I had to learn how to figure out the cost of the materials while calculating the cost of our candles,” she said.

“I think that learning about managing finances will help me in the future to become more aware of all the work that goes into managing money,” she added. “If I get involved in another project to produce a product in the future, I will already have experience.”

Stark estimates about $420 in earnings so far with a few more opportunities to sell before the school year ends. Students will be selling their wares at the St. Cloud Farmers Market again on May 20.

This was the second time the course was offered. Stark said he is encouraged when a student figures out a new skill or talent.

“There’s always someone who surprises me,” he said. “They find something they like and that they are interested in. That growth is always great to see.”

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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