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Camp Start-up

Crafts and volleyball, yes. But this girls-only getaway is all about boning up for business.

The girls at the leafy Massachusetts summer camp knew that the sudden rain showers would spoil plans for their trip to the lake.

But most of them didn't mind. The sour weather just meant they would have more time to hammer out their business plans.

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These 30 campers are typical teenage girls at a decidedly atypical camp: Camp Start-Up, in Wellesley, was created to give girls of many ethnic and economic backgrounds an appreciation for - and an edge in - the business world.

The camp is one of a dozen or more business camps scattered across the United States that focus on entrepreneurship, marketing, and personal finance.

What makes Camp Start-Up noteworthy: It's one of just a few business camps that cater exclusively to teenage girls.

Whatever their target groups, such camps aim to fill a gap in business and finance training left by most public schools, organizers say. Forty percent of high school students have not been taught economics, and get an F (averaging 48 percent) in their understanding of basic economic concepts, according to the National Council on Economic Education. Boys are more likely than girls to score a C or better on the test.

So why don't more states press for economics schooling? One problem, says Robert Duval, president of the National Council on Economic Education, lies with a common misperception about what Americans think they really need to know. "Too many people think economics is what you do at MIT, and not what you do on the kitchen table," Mr. Duval says.

Camp Start-Up is out to change that. It shows girls the practicality of understanding business basics. And it's also a place to build self-esteem at a time when it flags for many young girls, says Joline Godfrey, CEO of Independent Means Inc., the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based financial-products firm that is also Camp Start-Up's parent.

Independent Means runs three other girls business camps, in California, Minnesota, and New York.

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Demand for such programs appears to be great. While women have made strides in business in the past decade, girls are still often left behind in their early years, workplace experts say.

Boys can be "brokers" of a sort as early as the first grade, where Michael Jordan rookie cards are traded to the highest bidder, says Ms. Godfrey. As they hit their teens, after-school jobs like hedge-trimming offer a chance to work on bargaining and price setting. For girls, it's often a different story.

"If girls are baby sitters, they're told 'Aren't you great with kids.' But boys, who mow lawns, are told 'Aren't you resourceful. Aren't you a little entrepreneur,' " says Godfrey. "The messages early on are still kind of setting roles in a way. Boys have a sense of economic self from the beginning."

"The biggest challenge women have ... is being taken seriously as a business owner and as a good investment," says Sharon Hadary, the executive director of the National Foundation of Women Business Owners. "The intervention should not wait until a female is in her 30s or 20s. We need to get to girls in high school."

At Camp Start-Up, girls come up with a moneymaking idea and then develop a plan for a mock business that includes proposals for financing, marketing, and distribution.

At the end of camp, they get a chance to present the plan to industry professionals, including Fleet bankers and Schwab financial analysts.

Hunkered down in a classroom, six girls pitch their business - a clothing line, complete with matching outfits, handbags, and shoes - to a business veteran. Susan Hammond, a business consultant from Duxbury, Mass., fires off questions and flags problems with all the subtlety of a jackhammer.

"Where you gonna get your funding?" Ms. Hammond asks, only to be met with blank stares.

"We haven't figured that out yet," murmurs one camper.

Hammond sinks their plan to buy property and build a warehouse. Her advice? Contract out. Get someone else to "pick, pack, and ship the goods."

She then takes aim at the idea of hiring workers to cut dress patterns. Forget it. Simply put the dimensions on a Zip disk and send it to China, she suggests (an idea that's potentially controversial). There, it can be loaded into a machine that adjusts and cuts the pattern for a fraction of the cost of paying employees.

The girls scribble notes in silence.

Other groups in the camp are equally active. A mock company called "Simply Delicious" works out the kinks of an in-home-chef business. Another group develops a resort for senior citizens.

Women business professionals (who are also counselors) hand out business cards, recommend contacts, and give phone numbers of others who could help them with their projects.

The ideas generated in the groups, Godfrey says, are now so sophisticated that business leaders who listen to the plans will soon sign nondisclosure agreements so they don't steal ideas.

"The ideas and products are so good, much hipper and savvier" than previous years, she says. In fact, she plans on licensing one product created at a recent camp (she won't say what it is).

"It's not only do they want their makeup, their boyfriends, and their pretty clothes ... they want something substantial to chew on," says Godfrey.

Jessie Rymph, a camper from Reston, Va. says at "traditional" camps, "we slept in cabins, had lousy food, and took showers in water that smelled like rotten eggs."

But Camp Start-Up, she says, had great facilities. "We had a lot of fun, but the emphasis was on learning and not on goofing off in the outdoors. Traditional camp activities would have been fun, but we really needed all the time to soak up as much knowledge as we could."

Everything at Camp Start-Up is business related. Even dinner is fodder for talking about etiquette.

Jodi Smith, a Boston-based etiquette consultant, shows the right way to pass the bread and how to avoid shoveling in food like a lumberjack.

Walking among the tables, Ms. Smith launches into details she says will sink or propel the girls' business chances. Avoid finger foods. When drinking, she tells them, look into your glass, not at the other person. And always taste your food before seasoning it. One major corporation, she says, reportedly hired or ignored candidates based on at what point they salted their food at a dinner-table interview. What the executives read into the act of salting first, Smith says: The applicant "didn't gather all the facts before taking action."

That's one less thing these campers will have to worry about in the work world.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society


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