They Got Spirit, Yes, They Do

With the help of Students in Free Enterprise, these students at Flagler College started two businesses.

We've noticed you there, sitting in your dorm rooms, sipping brews in the campus pub, strolling across campus with copies of Start Your Own Business (Entrepreneur Media Inc.) . . . with nary a thought of getting a corporate job once you graduate from college. And so we feel compelled to cheer on those of you who are starting your own businesses while you're still hitting the books. Welcome to BizU.

Instead of just learning about starting their own businesses, students at Flagler College in Saint Augustine, Florida, are actually doing it. With the help of the nonprofit organization Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), a core team of 20 students launched two businesses in the summer of 1999: The Ponce Shop and Legacy Tours, businesses that promote regional history by offering tours and selling merchandise. This year, the group started two more businesses: Flagler's Legacy, a shop in downtown St. Augustine, and Flagler's Legacy Online, its virtual companion.

But what's even more interesting about the Flagler crew is the fact that they're doing this simply because they want to. The students don't receive college credit for their efforts, and though making a profit is certainly one of their objectives, the team is more concerned with teaching entrepreneurship to the Saint Augustine community-even while they're learning the ropes themselves. One of their more successful programs, Follow the Leader, allows at-risk teenagers from a local alternative high school to shadow SIFE members, learning business skills in the process. "You can really see a change in the girls we've worked with," says Sarah Baskin, 22, president of Flagler's SIFE program. "Now they have plans for the future."

This year, Flagler's team will include eight to 10 more high school students working on-campus in departments ranging from the radio station to alumni relations. "The teenagers are getting exposure to college," says Donna Webb, a SIFE faculty advisor at Flagler (named Sam M. Walton Free Enterprise Fellows). "They meet with us and talk about their experiences."

Indeed, exposing young people to entrepreneurship is SIFE's main objective. "We provide college students with the opportunity to make a difference," says Alvin Rohrs, CEO and President of SIFE. "They learn leadership, teamwork and communications skills while practicing the principles of free enterprise."

Flagler's team, which was named Southeast regional champions last year by the SIFE organization, also worked with local businesspeople to bring Junior Achievement (JA) to their county this year. SIFE members were able to test a pilot program at a local middle school, leading such JA classes as Job Opportunities and Interviews, Using Credit Wisely and Personal Budgeting. The team has also been active on its own campus, instituting "Responsible Use of Credit Week" to educate Flagler students about using credit cards wisely.

The team's ultimate goal with these projects is to make a lasting impression. "We create our own futures," says Webb. "That's our motto. We try to look at the big picture and take ideas that will have long-term impact." At the end of each year, the students evaluate the previous year's projects and discuss how to improve them. Over the summer, each student collects information for new projects and then presents it at the beginning of the new school year. The team members then brainstorm their ideas and vote on seven that seem plausible. "We try to teach the students to take an idea into action," says Webb. "Too often, we live in the shadow of an idea that's never implemented. Our goal is to make the idea become a reality."

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This article was originally published in the November 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: They Got Spirit, Yes, They Do.

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