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Tricks of the trade

Camp teaches teens lessons of successful entrepreneurship

By Lance Boedigheimer, UMD Writing Intern

Entrepreneur Laura Lucy Entrepreneur Laura Lucy

As the owner and sole proprietor of Life’s Little Joys Photography, Laura Lucy has a busy year ahead of her: she’s looking into office space for the business, taking on some employees and — wait for it — finishing her sophomore year of high school.

Lucy attended the 2013 UMD Teen Enterprise camp in Virginia, Minn., an event for students age 14-18 aimed at teaching them how to be a successful entrepreneur. The program is run through the UMD Center for Economic Development.

For some participants, the lessons from the camp are for future career plans, but for others, like Lucy, these lessons are put to use right away.

"With my photography business, I had been struggling a bit with the ‘business’ aspect: time, money, expansion, things like that. Just managing all of this was pretty new to me," she said. "The camp showed me that I definitely needed to change how I managed my time. Before, I was a bit lazy when it came to setting up the shoots, editing the photos and upkeep with the website."

Camp participants conducted market research, found information on big companies like Coca-Cola, and then shared their findings with the group.

According to Sandi Larson, creator and program director of UMD Teen Enterprise, the presentation aspect is repeated throughout the week.

"Employers are looking for soft skills — being able to communicate, team work, being able to present well," she said. "This program is about entrepreneurship, but it’s also about developing those soft skills."

Larson came up with the idea for UMD Teen Enterprise after a discussion with the U.S. Small Business Administration and Minnesota Small Business Development Center’s network about focusing on programs for veterans and youth entrepreneurship.

"When we talked about that being a priority for the SBA/SBDC," she said, "the youth entrepreneurship idea really resonated with me."

At the time, Larson’s entrepreneurial-minded son was in junior high and creating a program for youth like him appealed to her. While developing the camp, she used her son as a resource to figure out what the camp should look like.

"I bounced a lot of ideas off him and he really liked the idea of learning how to think through the business process, how to take your own idea and put it into action," she said.

According to Larson, the participants build on a business plan every day throughout the camp, getting "big picture" lessons and relating it back to their idea. Then, at the end of the week, everything is put together in a business presentation for participants, staff, parents, and whomever the students want to invite.

And while those communication skills are important to hone, Lucy found another unique experience offered by UMD Teen Enterprise to be both her favorite, and the most helpful.

"We visited numerous small businesses and got to question them about their start up struggles, and how they got the leg-up on the competition," she said. "It gave us a chance to be really engaged, and to learn from the personal experience of the owners about the challenges we can expect to face in the future."

Nicole Wrazidlo, a UMD freshman who attended the first Teen Enterprise camp in 2012, agrees that visiting businesses around town was both enjoyable and helpful. But, for Wrazidlo the most beneficial time was that spent in the classroom.

The camp welcomed a variety of business owners from around Duluth who shared their story. One example was the owner of Frost River, a business specialized in making and selling a variety of outdoor packs.

"The owner came in and shared his products, his marketing strategy, how he got started," she said. "It was fun to hear from people who made it."

Success stories like these gave the participants in UMD Teen Enterprise hope about the future, while understanding that the path to success is far from smooth.

Conveying the reality of entrepreneurship is an important part of the camp, but it’s all part of the overall mission — teaching young people how to be successful in the world of business.

Both Lucy and Wrazidlo agree that young people who want to become entrepreneurs should attend the CED Teen Enterprise camp. However, according to Larson, this field casts its net much wider than one might think.

"We’ve heard that people coming into the workforce now are going to have at least seven different careers in their lifetime and one of those will be entrepreneurship," she said. "We’re showing young people what it takes because there’s a good chance that they will be an entrepreneur at some point in their lives."

Click here for information about the 2014 camp.