Researching, planning and pitching a new business proposition to a panel of investors are the latest extra credit projects for some Wisconsin high school students. More than 325 students attended the 2nd Annual Youth Entrepreneurship Summit at Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) where a passing grade depended on their ability to plan and pitch a new business.
The summit was organized by FVTC’s Venture Center, Northeast Wisconsin’s leading entrepreneurial center, and representatives from CESA 6 to mark National Entrepreneurship Week, February 23–March 1, 2008. More than 325 high schools were in attendance from a five-county region.
The day’s mission was to explore career choices by cultivating an “entrepreneurial mindset” and skill set. Students were asked to develop a new business pitch and present it to a panel of judges. The assignment: gain financial support to open a new Smart Car dealership in the Fox Valley. Students were able to see a new Smart Car on display thanks to Bergstrom Automotive and used resources at the Summit to develop a pitch on their new business venture.
Real-life entrepreneurs, all graduates of the Venture Center’s entrepreneur training and coaching programs, helped students develop their pitches. Each entrepreneur facilitated round table discussions about using skill sets of imagination, creativity, team building, critical thinking and communication in developing the Smart Car dealership concept.
“This allowed the students to compare and contrast the various entrepreneurs’ backgrounds, and their business ideas in a timely fashion,” said Nancy Backus, a teacher from Winneconne High/Middle School. “This event would not be possible for our school to reproduce because of the many hours of work and dollars involved.”
Each group had only 90 minutes to read the case study, divide the work, develop the pitch and select a team representative to deliver the pitch. Students went through a qualifying round and a final round to pitch their ideas.
The winning team from Winneconne High School was led by pitchman Ethan Hollenberger, who credited team work and his strong background in forensics and debate for delivering the winning pitch. “It taught me to work under pressure and gave a broad scope of what it’s like to work for yourself,” Hollenberger said. “You have to pitch your business, put all the facts together and, finally, come across with passion.”
Hollenberger is not certain he will be an entrepreneur, but he is enrolled in business studies at Marquette University in the fall of 2008.
The idea to combine FVTC’s Venture Center, regional high schools and real-world entrepreneurs was the product of Tania Kilpatrick of CESA 6 and Venture Center staff led by Amy Pietsch. “If we want an innovative future economy, we need to reach today’s high school students to let them know there are creative business alternatives open to them,” Pietsch said. “By showing kids how real-life entrepreneurs start their business and the skill sets they use daily, hopefully one of these young people will create a completely new venture.”
In addition to FVTC, the major sponsor for the event was Community First Credit Union along with contributing sponsors, the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, Pinnacle Perspectives, Epiphany Law, Bergstrom Automotive and Express Convenience Centers/U.S. Oil.