Program to encourage a new generation of entrepreneurs

EVART – Entrepreneurship is the driving force behind many successful businesses and organizations in America.

Young aspiring entrepreneurs may have a great idea, but lack the know-how to make their dreams a reality.

“With a laptop, cell phone and the Internet you have as many tools as a fortune 500 executive,” said Al Weinberg, Evart Downtown Development Authority director. “It’s just how you use them.”

Plans for an entrepreneurship training program for youth in Evart are underway, but organizers need the participation of parents and community members for the process to continue.

Generation E is an organization that trains and motivates young entrepreneurs. A representative from the organization will educate community members about the program and answer questions Thursday at 4 p.m. at the Local Development Finance Authority offices in the Evart Air Industrial Park terminal located south of U.S. 10 on South Industrial Park Drive.

“We can’t wait for big companies to come in and give jobs, we have to create our own,” said Melora Theunick, LDFA director. “This program would teach young people how to actually create their own job.”

The LDFA introduced the idea in the community in the spring by surveying 500 students at Evart Public Schools about their entrepreneurial interests.

Fifty-two percent of students in 7th through 12th grade said they would like to take a class or participate in a club that teaches them how to write a business plan and start their own business.

Weinberg has three children in Evart Public Schools and thinks Generation E would positively impact the community.

“Small towns are a huge area for growth,” Weinberg said. “People who grew up here and love being here can have the opportunity to stay by developing great products and businesses.”

He thinks his children and other students he knows from the community with an “entrepreneurial spirit” would participate in and benefit from Generation E.

“Anyone with entrepreneurial skills, training, and the right mindset can be as competitive as anyone anywhere,” Weinberg said. “I think Generation E will be a great club for students to invest in.”

If the program begins, it would start as a community club with the potential of translating into school curriculum in the future, Theunick said. Big Rapids Middle School and Crossroads Academy in Big Rapids both adopted the Generation E curriculum as an elective course offering last year.

“We need to identify a couple of individuals who could be trained in the program,” Theunick said. “We need somebody with a passion for this.”

Individuals interested in leading the group would attend a two-day training in Tustin. Trainees will go through the curricula and practice many of the hands-on activities, leaving fully equipped with activities, resources, assessments, and all the tools necessary to successfully deliver the entrepreneurship education program.

The five-step process in bringing Generation E curriculum to Evart includes community appraisal, engagement, planning, training, and community assistance to sustain the program. Thursday’s meeting will complete the community engagement step in the process.

The program would be project-based and driven by students working towards a goal of instilling an entrepreneurial mindset in kids from an early age. Potential projects include developing business and financial plans to start small businesses as diverse as lawn mowing, product creation, community gardening, creating green and/or recycled products, making greeting cards, calendars, selling pictures, open bicycle shop and much more.

“In this area and the tough economic times, I really think we have to diversify,” Theunick said. “If we can teach people skills, they can support themselves.”

Theunick, who owns her own seamstress business on the side, learned about Generation E a few years ago at a conference. As an entrepreneur, she sees the program as a potential great advantage to youth in Evart.

“If somebody hadn’t taken the time to each me to sew when I was 12, I wouldn’t be able to have my business,” Theunick said.

Generation E’s recognized that not every community will offer entrepreneurship education in their school, and community-wide approach to find the “pockets of entrepreneurs” within a community, according to the company’s website.

Entrepreneurship programming opportunities are sought through organizations such as libraries, after school programs, faith-based, home school, alternative education, at-risk youth summer camps, Chamber of Commerce, Boys and Girls Clubs, and many more. Assistance with funding resources, business leader mentoring, student loan resources, student recognition celebrations, internships and job shadowing are provided.

“Whether or not my kids grow up to be running their own business, entrepreneurial skills are great to have,” Weinberg said.

Interested parents and community members can help Generation E get started in Evart by going to the meeting Thursday.

“We need people to show up to prove this is worthwhile, that we want to give our children these opportunities,” Theunick said.