Partners seed micro-businesses at 13 high schools in Wilds region

More than 100 people gathered at the Red Fern in St. Marys on October 15 to hear from high school students who started micro-businesses at their schools with help from the North Central PREP network.

All told, 13 clubs across the Pennsylvania Wilds were seeded with funding support from the PA Dept. of Community & Economic Development’s Discovered in PA, Developed in PA program. The schools were given $5000 each to purchase a piece of equipment or other supplies for their club’s start-up. Awards also included a field trip stipend to cover field research or mentoring, and curriculum materials.

Ten of the clubs presented at the October event. Each got 10 minutes to explain their concept and what they learned. The micro businesses ranged from school stores to creating spirit gear to purchasing a beverage machine to starting an engraving service.

“I can’t say enough, thank you for the grant and allowing us to do this,” said DuBois Area School District Advisor Rodney Thompson, whose students explained their startup, called F.A.S.T. – Fun Activity Sports Tournaments — which brought together a diverse group of students to compete in corn-hole, Frisbee and other activities, raising money through registrations and food and beverage sales to go back into the club.

Elk County Catholic School System students bought a beverage vending machine. They said federal regulations prohibited certain beverages from being sold during school hours, so they purchased a machine that allowed some of its concessions to stay locked until the school bell rang at the end of the day. They showed slides that broke down which beverages sold best at their school (water) and also which had the highest profit margins.

Northern Potter Area School District’s advisor said when her students started they lacked important soft skills. She pointed to a young man standing next to her at the podium and explained that in the beginning he was afraid to even pick up a phone to ask for price quotes.

“Now I could hand him a phone and he could call Custom Ink – no problem.”

The young man beamed. “I’ve learned so much,” he said. He continued to banter with his advisor in front of the crowd throughout the presentation about lessons he and the other students took away from the various challenges they faced getting their spirit gear business off the ground.

Seeding the micro-business startups was a special project put forth by North Central PREP, a network of business service providers that includes the North Central Regional Planning & Development Commission, Clarion University Small Business Development Center, the region’s Industrial Development Corporations, the PA Wilds Center and other organizations.

“Entrepreneurship is one of those things you learn best by doing,” said Ta Enos, executive director of the PA Wilds Center, who wrote the grant application on behalf of the PREP Network after Bob Veilleux, then with Potter County Education Council, brought the concept to the group and the NC PREP leadership got behind it.

“We are grateful to DCED for investing in this project with us,” Enos said. “It was a valuable experience for the students, and I think it helped raise awareness among young people and education partners about the many business development services available in rural PA.”

The schools were funded about a year ago, but only North Central’s Workforce Investment Board staff – who managed the grant from beginning to end as a volunteer contribution to the project – was aware of all the results. Other NC PREP partners, local employers and school advisors were hearing most of the students’ stories for the first time Thursday.

“Wow,” said Lori Lewis, Kane Area School District’s club advisor, said when she and her students took the podium about half way through the program. “Everyone has done such a great job. I am so impressed.”

Several clubs used the Junior Achievement Company Program for their curriculum. The curriculum has the option of shutting down the company at the end of the year, but many clubs plan to reinvest their profits to keep the clubs going for future years. One teacher reported her class size doubling, others said they made the club an official part of their curriculum. Others still reported using some proceeds to fund student scholarships or to do beatification projects in their communities.

At the end of the presentations, Greg Sands, District Operation Manager for Junior Achievement of Western Pa, a partner throughout the project, told the crowd the most rewarding part of the day was hearing the students’ stories. “I love that,” he said. “You made my day.”

Clubs seeded through this project include:
Austin Area School District
Bradford Area School District
Brookville Area School District
DuBois Area School District
Elk County Catholic School System
Jefferson County DuBois Area Career and Tech Center
Kane Area School District
Moshannon Valley Area School District
Northern Potter Area School District
Ridgway Area School District
Unable to attend:
Galeton Area School District
Port Allegheny Area School District
St. Marys Area School District

Special thanks to the following who volunteered to serve as PREP (Partnerships for Regional Economic Performance) Advisors assisting the schools through the entire process: Diane Corey, Workforce Development; Sherri Geary, McKean County Economic Development; Ta Enos, PA Wilds; Kathleen Margle, Workforce Development; Cindy Nellis, Clarion University Small Business Development Center; Teresa Neal, Workforce Development; Justine Paget, Workforce Development; Greg Sands, Jr. Achievement; Susie Snelick, Workforce Development Board, Pam Streich, Workforce Development Board; Bob Veilleux, McKean County

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