Teens learn the startup mindset and pitch new business ideas in inaugural entrepreneurship camp

Blessing, 13, gets a congratulatory hug from her dad, Jamada Norris, after graduating from the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County’s Entrepreneurship Camp. Photo by Robert Chappell.

Special promotional content provided by the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County.

Though she’s only 13, Blessing has been an entrepreneur her whole life.

“She always wanted to have her own business,” says Blessing’s mom, Quishanta. “She goes around looking at empty businesses and (says), ‘This is where I can put my business.’”

For the past three years, the Cherokee Middle School student has been kicking around an idea for a business called ArtEats (“It sounds like artiste,” she says), an art gallery and studio with a built-in cafe. 

“I am an artist, but I also get inspired by other people’s art,” Blessing says. “When this idea started to stick with me this year, I started drawing more, I started cooking more, basically trying to improve myself so I can actually develop the business.”

Another step she took to help develop the business was to attend the first-ever Entrepreneurship Camp at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County McKenzie Regional Workforce Center, a state-of-the-art skilled trades & entrepreneurship center dedicated to empowering young people to pursue their dreams of starting their own businesses.

Mohammed, a 14-year-old student at Central Heights Middle School in Sun Prairie, also attended the camp. His business idea is called Swish Sports Center, a training facility and gym that also has a sporting goods retail store attached. Mohammed plays basketball and “always knew I wanted to do something in sports.”

Over six weeks, 12 young people aged 12-17 touched on 72 topics from money management to marketing to profit margins. They ultimately made one-minute investment pitches on video. This camp is the first of many exciting opportunities for young people to learn about the behind-the-scenes details of creating your own business from dedicated professionals in our community.

The curriculum comes from the Action Coaching Young Entrepreneur Smart Start (YESS) program, administered here by Chisel Action Coaching founder Monica Gunderson. 

“We start with mindset,” Gunderson said. That mindset includes embracing who you want to be in addition to what you want to do.

“One of the things we teach is the identity iceberg. We talk about the importance of our identity. That’s where we start with our belief systems,” she said. “These kids are sponges, for lack of a better description. There’s so much information available to them. So it just guides them to explore this path.”

Gunderson also said the kids are taught not to get discouraged.

“When you’re confused, that actually means you’re learning and you’re expanding,” she said. “Confusion is a great place to be. We‘re encouraging the participants and our graduates to not get discouraged when you’re confused. Don’t stop, go and learn more, because it probably means you’re going to expand your knowledge”.

The kids we spoke to had a few specific takeaways.

“I learned about five ways to profitability and the entrepreneurs’ ladder,” Blessing said.

“I’ve learned that you have to be patient, and that the profit isn’t going to come right away,” Mohammed said. He said the pitch he made in his video was “the big picture of the business is what I want the end result I want to make, but I want to start small.”

He also noted the mindset he learned.

“I only knew the idea of an entrepreneur but now I know actually what an entrepreneur is and the different aspects that it takes to start a business,” he said.

Blessing’s dad, Jamada, noticed a shift in her mindset as well.

“She’s always been confident but I see more confidence, I see more growth and ambition for her,” he said. “Her desire has always been helping people and always inspiring others.”

“We’re really excited to expose our members to entrepreneurial skills,” said BGCDC assistant vice president for workforce development Stephanie Johnston. “Being able to learn about financial literacy, investment, customer service, creating a business plan, and really giving them the confidence that hopefully one day they can own their own business, they can be their own boss.”

This is just the start of entrepreneurship programs that will be offered through the McKenzie Regional Workforce Center – there are already plans for another camp taking place this fall. Michael Johnson, President & CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County, spoke to their great ambitions for these programs.

Boys and Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson addresses the graduates. Photo by Robert Chappell.

 “The success of this first camp is just a glimpse of what BGCDC strives to accomplish. We hope to inspire hundreds or thousands of children in Dane County at an early age to really consider their future and take steps to develop their own businesses,” Johnson said. “In the long run, programs like this will help close the wealth equity gap in Dane County and make our community stronger.”

Dates for the fall camp are still being finalized. For the most up-to-date program information follow Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County on Facebook. For additional information about the McKenzie Regional Workforce Center and its upcoming programs, please contact Stephanie Johnston at sjohnston@bgcdc.org.

The camp was funded by a Workforce Innovation Grant from the Wisconsin Department of Administration and executed in partnership with the Action Coach Young Entrepreneur Smart Start and WRTP | BIG STEP.