Thirty-seven teams of high school business students made their pitches Nov. 21 to “loan committees” at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith to seek funding for the businesses they want to start and operate until spring.
Dave Robertson, director of the Family Enterprise Center at UAFS, said Craig Pair, local entrepreneur and business owner, was the catalyst of the program when it began in 2007. Robertson has been the on-campus facilitator for the annual event since 2010.
The participating students come from business development classes at Northside and Southside high schools. Their presentations at UAFS were business plans developed this fall.
“Each team was allowed to request up to $500 in seed money to use to actually start and run their small business,” said Robertson. “Most asked for $100 to $200, and some didn’t need any cash up front.”
Robertson said local business people were on the panels that decided loan amounts for the students, with approximately $3,000 loaned to the students this year by UAFS. The high school instructors work with the students to open bank accounts and purchase supplies or inventories for their businesses.
“The neat thing about this is that for some of these students, this may be the first time that they have had to make a formal presentation to a group of adults,” said Robertson.
The plans covered a range of business entrepreneurial endeavors — customized cell phone cases, car detailing, Web creating and hosting, algebra and geometry tutoring, monogrammed sports bras, handmade bass lures, seasonal gift bags, Mexican candy sales, specialty headbands and more.
The high school faculty involved with the project believe in the importance of the endeavors as well. Instructors include Judy Vosburg from Southside and Melinda Briscoe from Northside. Briscoe said her students are learning about the quality of work that is expected outside the classroom.
“They get to practice talking to adults in a business and social situation that some never get the opportunity to do,” she said. “This is a first ‘networking’ opportunity for many of my students. We practice shaking hands and making eye contact. What we might consider common knowledge, they need to practice.”
Briscoe asked her students what they gained from this experience, and the answers – which “just filled the air” – were varied.
“I heard how stressful it is to run a business, how important the details are and how it would feel to be the business owner,” she said, adding that others believe they have learned time management.
Vosburg believes the entrepreneurship activity at UAFS is important for her students, too.
“The students gain valuable experience and confidence when they present themselves and their business ideas to business owners and bankers,” said Vosburg. “They realize that it takes a lot of planning and detail work to get their businesses started, and through this process, some learn that entrepreneurship is not for them and some realize it is and they want to do this.”
The student teams return to the UAFS campus next spring, with another group of panels judging their efforts and awarding first-, second- and third-place winners with UAFS scholarships.