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posted: Mon, May 18th, 2015

Developing young entrepreneurs

Elyssa Caravaca hopes her fun, hand-painted animal light switches will be a smash. 

D.J. Ryerson and Kisheeth Reddivari think there’s a market for their cork guns, especially among their video game playing friends.

Max Polak believes his picture frames with wood-burned designs will sell because they look good and make great gifts.

This is TREP$, a unique program that teaches students the nuts and bolts of entrepreneurship by walking them through product development from concept to completion.

The 60 CMS fifth-graders who volunteered to be in the program found out if their products could cut it in the marketplace when they hawked their wares in an actual marketplace – a special TREP$ sale held on May 13. This was no simulation. Students gained the experience of interacting with REAL customers and learned the value of hard work by earning REAL money.

Each entrepreneur had his or her own table in the CMS cafeteria that artfully displayed the hand-made products. There were decorated boxes and folders, leaf art, breath mint dog bones, candy and baked goods, Minecraft necklaces, and tee-shirts, to name just some of the merchandise on sale.

Hundreds of parents, community members, friends, and faculty members turned out for the event. And as the sales started to add up, students beamed with the satisfaction and sense of achievement that can only come from seeing an idea become a successful reality.

“The students were so proud of their accomplishments and you could see their self-confidence grow throughout the evening,” said CMS instructional supervisor Jen Curry, who coordinated the program. “They were incredibly professional, from their choice of dress to their conversations with the customers. At the end of the evening, students and parents expressed their thanks and appreciation for the opportunity to be a part of such a unique program. I heard so many stories about hard work and dedication. It was amazing.”

Entrepreneurship has always been a hallmark of America’s growth and history. But with reality shows like “Shark Tank” and “The Apprentice” on the air, the legacy of Steve Jobs in everyone’s pocket, and entrepreneurs such as Mark Zuckerberg and Danny Meyer regularly in the news, innovation and business ownership has perhaps never been more in the spotlight.

TREP$, which stands for entrepreneurs, took the fifth-graders through the product development process by teaching them very concrete business fundamentals over the program’s two months. The students met every Wednesday and learned a different business skill each week. For example, one week students were writing business plans and identifying their target customers, another week they were learning about marketing and slogans and effective advertising, and another it was salesmanship and customer service.

The entrepreneurs were encouraged to make use of skills or talents they already had when coming up with product ideas. In the days preceding the sale, the TREP$ participants visited every classroom in the building to show off their merchandise as well as answer questions about the TREP$ experience. This was an opportunity for the students to practice their sales pitches and drum up excitement for their products.

“TREP$ helps all children know that they can succeed if they put their attention and energies in,” said CMS teacher Karen Blomquist, who served as a program adviser with Karen Husser and Kathy Fiebel. “It teaches students to tap into their strengths and builds up their confidence. I can’t say enough good things about it.”

Interestingly, the fifth-graders were motivated to sign up for the program for a variety of different reasons. Some, like D.J. and Kisheeth, wanted to make money. Others, like Elyssa, wanted to use their creativity and skills to make something tangible. Still others, like Morgan Rooney, were more interested in learning the business basics and engaging in a “grownup” type of activity.

“I want to open a bakery when I get older,” Morgan said. “So this helped me understand what is involved. It’s also a good opportunity to show that fifth-graders can be adults and do more than just play.”

TREP$ has been around for about 10 years though this is the first time that CMS has tried out the program. To acknowledge the inaugural effort, TREP$ co-creator Pamela de Waal paid a visit to the TREP$ sale to personally congratulate the students and staff members involved.

 

 

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Chester M. Stephens Elementary School
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