Recently I launched a new workshop program for middle and high school students called Running Start. The goal of the program is to equip youth with critical skills like creativity, problem solving and critical thinking through the lens of entrepreneurship. Local subject matter experts and entrepreneurs will lead the workshops in which youth will work on a business concept, complete a business planner workbook, and finally pitch their idea. The workshops will cover business basics, company ideation, non-profits vs. for-profits, business planning, sales, market research, budgeting, branding, and more.
One of the most frequent questions I get asked about is why I started the program. I was really inspired by my volunteer experiences with the Girl Scouts. I started teaching a workshop for young girls so they could earn a Business Owner badge. While teaching I noticed that the 3rd grade students were coming up with viable business concepts. Their ideas were for products and services that could be launched into the marketplace today, that’s how sophisticated and innovative their ideas were. So, what would happen if we tried the same thing with middle and high school youth? That’s really the genesis of the idea, but of course it couldn’t have happened without deeper support.
I approached Ann Arbor SPARK with my concept to get feedback and gauge interest. I asked Michigan WORKS! about the skills employers were looking for. I reached out to potential sponsors so I could offer free needs-based scholarships. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and I was encouraged to think entrepreneurially myself and get the program off the ground. I engaged a group of mentors including lawyers, accountants, and fellow entrepreneurs to volunteer during the workshops. Everyone said yes—and I was off and running.
One the greatest joys along the way has been meeting young entrepreneurs who will also be serving as peer mentors. Naja Prince and Abbi Middaugh are two 14-year old young women with their own businesses who will serve as models for our workshop attendees. Their enthusiasm and positivity about business ownership is inspiring to anyone, no matter what stage of business they are in.
I should also add that another reason I start Running Start is because I wish something like the program had existed when I was young. I was in every camp you could imagine—Citizenship Camp, Leadership Camp, and even Space Camp. But there were no opportunities to hone the skills I would later need as an entrepreneur. My hope now is that the youth that go through our program will feel confident in their ability to think like an entrepreneur in everything they do. Because every young person deserves to get a Running Start!
Debra Power is the Founder and President of Running Start (www.running-start.biz) and the President of Power Marketing Research (www.getresearchpower.com), a two-time Ann Arbor SPARK FastTrack Award winner. Scholarships are still available for Running Start workshops. Fill out the website contact form for more information.