From the October 2002 issue of Startups

(YoungBiz.com) - Deanna Thies of Glasgow, Missouri, is the owner of The Veggie Patch, a seasonal agriculture business that nets her and her younger sister Jana thousands of dollars in profits each year.

Thies, 20, started her business by convincing relatives and neighbors to let her grow fruits and vegetables on their unused land in exchange for upkeep and a portion of the crops. "The business pretty much evolved from there," she explains. "I already knew a lot of things I wanted to grow, like tomatoes and watermelons, but I talked to farmers in the area about where I should sell my produce and what sells well." Initially deciding on 30 to 40 varieties of fruits and veggies that she would sell at two nearby farmers markets, Thies eventually expanded her offerings to include cut flowers and more exotic vegetables favored by her area's ethnic communities.

Like her crops, Thies' business has thrived under her care: She now sells more than 80 different varieties of fruits, veggies and flowers and during a good summer week can bring in as much as $1,000.

It may be hard to believe, but Thies's successful business started out as an FFA project. "I was trying to think of an idea for my Supervised Agriculture Experience Program," she says. "I knew I didn't want to work for someone else--I wanted to be my own boss. That's how I came up with gardening."

Students like Thies are finding out that their schools, and the clubs within them, may be the best place to test drive a business idea. Schools across the country have jumped on the entrepreneurship bandwagon and no longer limit their business curriculum to classes like typing and accounting.

In addition to nurturing individual entrepreneurs, many schools--like those in Newark, New Jersey, offer youth entrepreneurship training programs for third through eighth graders that include a class project. Students in a class form a company and do everything from deciding on a product to electing CEOs.

"We had to make speeches on why we wanted to be the CEO," says 17-year-old Ydalis Rolon, former CEO of HYPE (Hernandez Young People's Enterprise) at Rafael Hernandez School in Newark. "I thought I could be a good leader."

HYPE baked and sold Otis Spunkmeyer cookies to teachers and fellow classmates and, at the end of the year, got to split the profits.

As Thies can tell you, clubs are getting into the class act too. FFA, for example, features an agri-entrepreneurship education program designed to increase the amount of entrepreneurship taught in ag classes. Club members can also compete for start-up funds in the Agri-Entrepreneurship Award program, held every year, in which 10 winners from around the country are selected. Thies is a former winner. The National 4-H Council also runs local and national programs to teach entrepreneurial skills. To find our more about these programs, contact your local FFA or 4-H chapter, or long on to their Web sites at www.ffa.org or www.4-h.org.

Other Class Acts
Schools aren't the only places to find entrepreneurship programs. Check out some of these sources:

  • Colleges. If you think you're too young for college, think again. Many offer programs for teens. One of the most high profile is The Young Entrepreneurs Program (YEP) at Columbia University in New York City. YEP is a three-phase program that starts during the summer and carries through to the following spring. Getting into the program isn't easy, but the rewards are great. Students get to travel, work with business leaders, and can receive start-up money for their businesses. To find out more about the program, visit www.columbia.eduentprog@columbia.edu.
  • Nonprofit Organizations. You might recognize the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership by name, but a number of local and national nonprofits are beginning to offer entrepreneurship programs to teens as well. The NAACP and the YMCA are just two examples. Contact your local chapters, or visit www.naacp.org or www.ymca.org to learn more.

    AmeriCorps recently offered The Young Businesswomen program to students in Puerto Rico, a five-month program in which students did everything from prepare business plans to dance Salsa. "This class has prepared me for the business world and to be a role model for the community," says Jennifer Pagan Sanchez, a recent graduate. For more information on the program, contact the Women's Business Institute in Puerto Rico at (787)726-7045.

  • Businesses. Surf the Web, and you'll be surprised at the companies catering to potential teen entrepreneurs. YoungBiz.com, for example, offers programs around the country, as well as a catalog of resources.
  • Communities. Most cities have a Small Business Development Center or Chamber of Commerce. These can be an invaluable resource to potential 'treps. If they don't offer classes themselves, you can bet they know who does. Log on to their sites, www.uschamber.com or www.sba.gov/sbdc/, to find an office near you.
  • GoVenture. Want to find out if you've got what it takes to be a successful 'trep and have a little fun at the same time? Check out GoVenture, a computer game that simulates starting and running a business. You choose the kind of business, and then do everything from hire employees to interact with customers.
Next Step
  • Read more about the Young Businesswomen program at Youngbiz.com.
  • See how colleges are getting into the class act here.