A group of juniors at Withrow University High School learned firsthand the power of entrepreneurship to change lives when they turned $200 in seed money into more than $600 for nonprofit agencies.
As the 2015-16 school year began, Withrow’s economics teacher Craig Rush challenged his students to create a Business for Good, a social enterprise that would benefit others. Eight teams were charged with starting and running a business using just $25 in seed money provided by the Mayerson Foundation. The teams were responsible for picking a product to sell; researching their markets; creating business plans; setting budgets; producing, marketing and selling their products; and choosing which local nonprofit agencies to support.
“Instead of just reading about business principles, students created real businesses, with actual business people to help them along the way,” Rush said. “There is a real intensity to this. This is a real-world project, and research shows this is the best way for kids to learn — to pursue their passion within classroom parameters.”
The project was a collaboration among Withrow; the Mayerson Foundation, which helped fund the program; and Junior Achievement, which lined up business professionals to share insights with students. Rush and Clare Blankenmeyer, Mayerson’s Learning and Service program director, created the Business for Good program.
It’s aligned with Cincinnati Public Schools’ My Tomorrow initiative, which focuses on preparing students for the career pathways of their choice by combining high expectations, technology and mentoring.
While the students applied well-defined economics principles to their start-up businesses, they had much creative freedom in choosing the nonprofit agencies to support, deciding what to sell and how to market their products. The Boys and Girls Clubs, the Ronald McDonald House, Celebration Inc., and Artworks were among the eight beneficiaries of the student-run businesses. Products sold ranged from doughnuts and pizza slices to bracelets and bandanas, with student teams employing everything from posters to social media to sell their wares.
As the culminating activity, each group presented its project to volunteers from local businesses and district administrators. The volunteers then voted for two teams to win $200 each to expand their businesses.
One winning group baked and sold more than 200 cupcakes for $1 each, netting $180.41 in profits to support Celebrate Inc., a nonprofit that provides birthday parties to disadvantaged children. Like all of the groups, the students started with their $25 seed money, but they also invested their own money into the venture.
“We learned that you have to take a risk,” said Anaya Stiffend, member of the team that supported Celebrations Inc. “We put our own money in, but we didn’t know if it would work out. But we had to take that risk.”
Another group sold slices of pizza at fall athletic games over a three-week period, raising $160 for Cincinnati’s Freestore Foodbank. Before developing a business plan, the group first did a market analysis to determine what would sell and at what price.
“To help analyze the data, we made a pie chart of students’ favorite food and what they were willing to pay,” said Niyah Carpenter. “We used that to help set our pricing.”
At $2 a slice, the price was right — the group sold out every time.
“For many of these students, it allowed them to celebrate what they do well and to use technology to get the message across,” Rush said, noting that some of the social media sites set up for the businesses received comments from as far away as New Mexico and Ireland. “The students really took ownership of their businesses.”
The project also gave students 21st-century skills they can bank on. They researched, solved problems, worked as a team, stayed persistent, communicated with business leaders and advocated for their ideas in a professional setting — all necessary skills in college and the workforce. Just as importantly, students learned how they can be active participants in their communities.
“I was really blown away by the quality of what I saw,” Blankenmeyer said. “It really came down to the purpose behind it. These students weren’t just creating a business, they were doing something good for the community at large.”