If you happen to be in Lawrenceville, N.J., this summer and wander by Rider University, you might hear conversations about wholesale prices and business plans. But the CEOs doing the talking are not your typical Wall-Street elite. In fact, they are mostly inner-city youth who previously had no business experience.
All that changed, thanks to Sigfredo Hernandez, Kevin Wortham, and a group of dedicated volunteers and community business leaders who started a program that produces young entrepreneurs and gets them interested in college.
"Minding Our Business" is a spring and summer program that exposes students to the skills needed to run their own businesses.
Here's how it works: During the spring, 80 students in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades take a 12-week business workshop. Participants must present a business plan to an advisory board to secure funding for their ideas. The loans go toward buying wholesale merchandise to start their business, and the amount they receive from "Minding Our Business" depends on the quality of their plan. During the summer, 25 of the top students from the spring class are selected to participate in a two week-course at Rider before they sell their wares to the community. Students sell everything from hair beads and perfume to fruits and vegetables.
"They don't understand how hard it is to run a business," says Mr. Hernandez. "They are realizing that it's not easy work."
Hernandez estimates only about 10 percent of students continue with their business past the summer, but says it is the entrepreneurial fervor and business process they learn that is the most important.
And it's not all business all the time. Invited speakers discuss subjects such as self-esteem and conflict resolution. Moreover, the Rider University campus shows students that going to college is a possibility. "They finally see this is something that is feasible," says Hernandez. "They see what they need to do to get to college."
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society