Young Entrepreneurs Day 2011

Published 6:53 pm Monday, May 9, 2011

Dr. Gregory Curtis, owner of Curtis Chiropractic, and Calib Dill, Edwardsburg High School, talk over Calib's business plan for Go Green Gas. (Vigilant photo/Chris Ryback)

Dr. Gregory Curtis, owner of Curtis Chiropractic, and Calib Dill, Edwardsburg High School, talk over Calib's business plan for Go Green Gas. (Vigilant photo/Chris Ryback)

CASSOPOLIS — Twenty-six aspiring entrepreneurs from Cassopolis, Dowagiac, Edwardsburg and Marcellus high schools participated in Young Entrepreneurs Day on Thursday, April 21.

This marks the sixth year for the event, which is sponsored and hosted by the Edward Lowe Foundation in partnership with Lewis Cass Intermediate School District. The event was held at the foundation’s new retreat center, a 10,600-square-foot facility that opened last November.

Joan Forburger, event coordinator and career tech director for Lewis Cass Intermediate School District, welcomed the group of expectant and anxious students, who were accompanied by their teachers.

Forburger noted that Young Entrepreneurs Day is one of the highlights of her job. “For many of the students it’s their first opportunity to visit the foundation’s headquarters, and it gives them a chance to learn about the foundation and what it does,” she explained.

“Edward Lowe found a need — something people wanted — and he turned that need into a successful business,” Dino Signore, the foundation’s program development manager, told the group. Signore urged the young entrepreneurs to be willing to try something different, telling them that the key to success is often thinking differently about ways to use the resources that are already available to them.

The morning’s agenda included experiential exercises guided by Signore and Shannon Jennings, the foundation’s program services manager. One of these, known as “Three Levels,” emphasized the challenges that entrepreneurs face in managing their time and resources — and the importance of communication and teamwork.

The majority of Young Entrepreneurs Day revolved around students presenting business plans they had developed as a class assignment. Area business leaders listened as the students, who had worked on the plans either individually or as teams, described their company’s products and services, marketing, management and finance plans. Reviewers then asked questions and offered feedback, encouragement and ideas for implementation.

Many of the reviewers commented on the quality of the business plans and the skills of the students.

“I was very impressed with the ideas, the enthusiasm, and the professionalism of the young people I met with,” said Tom Buszek, dean of Southwestern Michigan College’s Workforce Education Business Solutions Division. “It was nice to see that level of organization and quality in high school students.”

Whether or not they plan to own a business in the future, students’ takeaways from the event were numerous. When asked about their impressions from the day, Robert Weaver of Dowagiac said, “It could take a while to make your business happen.” James Teague of Marcellus said, “Good teamwork and communication lead to success.” Ashlynn Leonard of Edwardsburg said, “Communication is key with everything you do in life.” And Jameka Eleazer of Cassopolis said, “Think outside the box and have good communication.”

Some of the biggest insights come later. Take Ivan Fedore, a Cassopolis student who participated in the first Young Entrepreneurs Day in 2006. Today, after graduating with honors from Albion College with a degree in economics and management, Fedore works part-time as a customer relations specialist at the Edward Lowe Foundation. He recently filled in as a substitute for one of his former teachers and was surprised to discover his business plan on her desk.

“After looking over my Young Entrepreneurs Day business plan five years after its creation, I was shocked at how many mistakes I had made,” Fedore recalled, “but more important, I realized the vast amounts of information I’d learned through the event.

“Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of the day was the opportunity to network with successful individuals from the community, the Edward Lowe Foundation staff and my peers from other school districts,” Fedore added.

At the end of Young Entrepreneurs Day, each student receives a certificate for their hard work.

“We hope they come away with a feeling of accomplishment, a greater appreciation of entrepreneurship and the foundation — and know that there are adults who are interested in them,” Forburger said.

Later, evaluations of the business plan were tallied based on 11 expectations. Winners receive a $50 savings bond. This year’s winners, along with the names of their businesses and schools are:

• Josh McCoy (Live Wire) — Ross Beatty Junior/Senior High School

• Savanna Lemon (JoJo’s Salon) – Dowagiac Union High School

• Madelaine Martin (My ART) – Edwardsburg High School

• Lacy Jordan (il Migliore Italian Restaurant) – Marcellus High School