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Beyond the lemonade stand: teaching entrepreneurship to Lansing teens


A program this weekend in Lansing teaches the basics of building a micro-business to youth aged 13 and older. It’s organized by the Lansing community organization, the NorthWest Initiative. Current State talks with Executive Director Peggy Vaughn-Payne.

You might define the word "business" as the desire to turn a passion into a product. The impulse can start early, and from humble beginnings. America is a place where a kindergartner can sell lemonade on the corner and a college student can build a social media empire from a dorm room. Most young people, though, are somewhere in-between.

A free program offered this weekend in Lansing is tailored towards helping teens build their own entrepreneurial skills. It’s sponsored by the Lansing-based community group, the NorthWest Initiative.

Current State talks about starting a micro-business with the organization’s executive director, Peggy Vaughn-Payne.


What microbusiness skills the teenagers are learning 

They're doing the same thing that a regular adult would do if they're going to learn how to start a business. So, it's kind of identifying what type of business, whether it's going to be a product-based or service, what kinds of materials you need, putting together a business plan, getting your sales, your marketing. It's the basics of doing a business but just geared more towards teens. 

Some of the outcomes of it is [sic] that the kids are really learning some great skills that will be with them for life. They're learning leadership, time management, sales, product, service, and pricing, math and accounting. If you're going to make money you have to learn be sure you know how to count it. Communication and written skills, so they're really honing in on their English. They have to do flyers or business cards. As well as finances, basically how are you going to fund this? What are the ways that we can look at funding a little microbusiness?

How the program helps teens create a business model 

Well, that's kind of where in the group setting, we're talking. The peers can help sometimes with that as they're trying to hone in on what it is exactly that they want to do. For example, I think I've got a young lady that's coming into the class on Saturday who is interested in fashion. Well, that's a pretty big area. So we're going to have to really work with her to hone in on exactly what in fashion. Is this women's fashion, pets, is it young girls? So, we will help them by just really talking through a lot of it so that we can help her be able to pinpoint down exactly what may work and what kind of business is realistic for her to start at her age.

On the personal rewards in helping kids build their own business 

It's amazing to see when they come in, sometimes they're timid and shy. Sometimes it might have been a parent that pushed them to come. But watching them grow over the course of two to three months or longer has been interesting. Watching some of the ones who've grown over the past three years that are still working their little business, that's always rewarding to see. You know money is a motivator. They don't necessarily understand when they're 13, 14, and 15 how these are life long skills, but they'll get it down the road, and they're staying with it so that's really cool.


Kevin Lavery is a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things considered.
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